Pilots and Sobriety


When we put our lives in someone else’s hands, we want to know that the person is capable of doing their job properly. There are a few professions that demand absolute sobriety in order to ensure the safety of others, and these employees must remain alert and prepared throughout their shift. One group of professionals that we need to demand complete sobriety from at all times is airline pilots.

The airlines have done a pretty good job at curbing drug and alcohol abuse among their pilots and crew members. Of course, we hear all the negative stories of pilots that missed runways because they were under the influence, or those that had to be removed because they were drunk. Sobriety of our pilots is never something we should take for granted, because pilots are people too, and they face the same temptations to do drugs or get drunk as the rest of us.

Random Drug Tests

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversees all random drug testing of pilots and supporting crew members. The randomness of the tests is credited for one reason why the rates of drug use among airline pilots is so low. Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health recently studied the FAA’s data, and found that only 5 out of every 10,000 crew members failed one of the random drug tests. Among post crash drug tests, they concluded that almost 5 out of every 1,000 flight crew members tested positive for illicit drug use. This suggests that many airline accidents do involve drug abuse somehow, a conclusion many of us might have made on our own.

Still, the airline industry has been known for its low substance abuse rate among employees. “US airlines have a remarkable safety record, and their robust drug and alcohol testing programs contribute to that record,” Victoria Day, a spokesperson for the Air Transport Association of America, which represents the industry, said. (1) And most people would say that’s how it should be. Pilots are liable for hundreds of lives on every flight, and anyone that doesn’t take that responsibility seriously should not be a pilot.

Being Watchful of our Pilots

Unlike doctors or surgeons who also take lives into their own hands, pilots do not have the face to face contact with their clients that doctors do. It might seem easy for a pilot to show up for work high on drugs, quietly slip into the cockpit, and take off. At least with a doctor, patients can witness first hand what state of mind they seem to be in. It is very important, therefore, for pilots and crew members to be watchful of each other, because sometimes they are the only ones that will see the signs of drug or alcohol abuse. According to reports, crew members do take this responsibility very seriously. Any employee who suspects a crew member or pilot of being under the influence is encouraged to speak up and report it, because they know that otherwise they may face repercussions too.


(1) Drug use linked to airplane accidents

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