FAA Proposes Drug Tests for Foreign Aircraft Workers

By Roy Maurer Mar 24, 2014

U.S. regulators may soon require aircraft-maintenance personnel working in facilities abroad on airplanes operated by U.S. airlines to undergo alcohol and drug testing.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is seeking comments on an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would require U.S. air carriers to ensure that all employees who perform safety-sensitive maintenance functions at FAA-certified repair stations located outside the United States are subject to drug and alcohol testing deemed acceptable by the FAA while still being consistent with the laws of the country in which the repair station is located. There are approximately 120 foreign repair shops responsible for repairing and maintaining planes flown by American carriers, according to the agency.

The FAA’s drug and alcohol testing regulations do not extend to individuals who perform aircraft maintenance and preventive maintenance outside of the United States; however, testing is in place for members of the flight crew, such as pilots and flight attendants; flight instructors; air tour operators; aircraft dispatchers; air traffic controllers; ground security coordinators; and screeners who handle international flights into the U.S.

Transnational Complications

The FAA is proposing the regulations in the absence of rules from the International Civil Aviation Organization, which oversees the global industry.

The agency realizes that enacting and enforcing a drug and alcohol testing program for foreign workers would have many complications, as any testing program would need to comply with both current FAA standards and the laws of the country where the repair shop is located. “The FAA is aware that establishing drug and alcohol testing requirements for such personnel presents complex practical and legal issues and could impose potentially significant costs on industry,” the agency said.

U.S. Federal Air Surgeon James R. Fraser wrote in the March 17, 2014, Federal Register notice that the FAA realizes that other nations may have a wide variety of laws and regulations concerning the use of, and testing for, alcohol and drugs. “The FAA further understands that other countries’ laws and regulations concerning other matters, such as personal privacy and employment, may affect whether and under what circumstances drug and alcohol testing may be conducted in those countries. The FAA also recognizes the diversity of policy, moral and religious views that exist internationally regarding drug and alcohol use and testing.”

The notice invites comments from countries in which covered maintenance providers are located, to help the FAA expand its understanding of drug and alcohol testing laws and regulations.

The agency is seeking responses to the following questions, among others:

  • Which drugs are most misused in a particular country?
  • If testing programs exist, are they administered by a national regulatory authority?
  • Are industry participants required to establish such programs under the country’s laws and regulations, or does industry do that voluntarily?
  • Should the program require testing for the same drugs the FAA requires tests for in the United States?
  • At what concentrations should alcohol and drug tests be considered “positive”?
  • Does a particular country allow or require random drug and/or alcohol testing? If so, what is the process?
  • If a country does not allow or require random drug and/or alcohol testing, are there laws that prohibit random testing?
  • What other methods might successfully deter employees from misusing drugs or alcohol while performing safety-sensitive duties, or within a certain period of time before performing such duties? How would such misuse be detected?
  • What standards should employees who have violated drug and alcohol regulations meet before they are allowed to return to safety-sensitive maintenance work?

The FAA said it is still considering the economic impact that such a rule would have on the U.S. airline industry. The comment period for this stage of the proposed rule ends on May 12, 2014.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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