April 1, 2020

The FAA has revised key enforcement procedures for drug and alcohol testing and extended a medical certification exemption to Part 135 international operations to maintain the nation’s vital air transport system during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

Under new guidelines issued by the agency, FAA-regulated employers unable to administer random drug and alcohol tests during the pandemic will be allowed to increase testing at the end of the year to meet their mandated annual rates of 25% for drug testing and 10% for alcohol testing.

The FAA also asks employers “to be sensitive” to employees who are uncomfortable or afraid to be tested at clinics or collection sites during the COVID-19 outbreak. Existing pre-employment, return-to-duty and follow-up testing procedures remain unchanged.

In other FAA moves affecting Part 135 operators, a new exemption extends the validity of medical certificates for commercial flight crew members based outside of the United States. Under this exemption, the FAA allows Part 135 pilots and flight engineers to operate overseas until June 30 if they lose their medical certificate solely because it expires between March 31 and May 31.

This expands FAA’s previous announcement that they would not pursue enforcement action against airmen with an expired medical certificate serving as required crewmembers within the United States.

Read the new exemption. (PDF)

Review the FAA guidance on disruptions to drug and alcohol testing due to COVID-19. (PDF)

This relief is granted because a reduction in the number of qualified pilots during the pandemic could jeopardize the continuity of air transportation at a critical time when the movement of food, supplies, mail and personnel is essential to the public interest, the agency notes in its exemption.

Operators must submit a letter of intent to the FAA before the agency will grant the exemption.

“The FAA is acting promptly and appropriately to maintain business aviation’s critical role during this national emergency,” said NBAA’s Director of Flight Operations and Regulations Brian Koester, CAM. “NBAA continues to work with the agency to ensure everyone in the business aviation community receives the necessary assistance, and we expect the FAA to issue relief for Part 91 operators soon.”