April 16, 2019

NBAA, along with eight other industry groups, recently sent a letter to the FAA voicing disapproval of the agency’s planned toxicology testing of urine samples collected for pilot medical exams to address NTSB Safety Recommendation A-14-95.

“It is our recommendation that the study be immediately shelved, and the FAA and NTSB work with industry stakeholders on mitigations focused on prevention through outreach, communication and education,” the organizations wrote. “Collectively, we strongly contend that the study: (1) is fundamentally flawed and will not accomplish its stated goals; (2) does not comply with applicable legal requirements; (3) represents a waste of valuable time, money, and limited resources; and (4) will further erode trust between the pilot community and the Office of Aerospace Medicine.”

The letter also called on the NTSB to rescind safety recommendation A-14-95, calling it “ineffective.” Issued in 2014, the recommendation asked the FAA to “assess the prevalence of over-the-counter, prescription, and illicit drugs among flying pilots not involved in accidents, and compare those results with findings from pilot who have died from aviation accidents to assess the safety risks of using those drugs while flying.”

First among NBAA’s list of concerns is that the FAA would not inform pilots that it would examine a urine sample given during an examination for a first, second, or third-class medical certificate. A consequential threat to the pilots’ privacy follows. As proposed, aviation medical examiners would provide subject information on the collection labels. The FAA would remove the geographic location from the collection label, but not the AME that provided it.

The organizations contend that NTSB Safety Recommendation A-14-92 provides a more effective use of the FAA’s resources. It calls for the FAA to develop, publicize and periodically update information to educate pilots about the potentially impairing drugs identified in toxicology test results of fatally injured pilots, and make pilots aware of less impairing alternative drugs if they are available.

“We contend that the FAA should focus its limited time and resources on acting on this widely supported recommendation – one that would potentially prevent the same pilot community from taking any impairing medication in the first place – rather than spend considerable time and money on deceptively and unknowingly testing 7,500 pilot urine samples, only to then publish a report with potentially flawed and misleading results,” the letter states.

“NBAA is a proponent of studies that may improve aviation safety, but we urge the FAA to reevaluate this study before it begins because of the possible detrimental consequences for the airmen whose samples are examined without their knowledge or consent,” said Brian Koester, NBAA senior manager of flight operations and regulations.

In addition to NBAA, the letter was cosigned by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the Allied Pilots Association, the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, the Experimental Aircraft Association, the Helicopter Association International, the National Air Transportation Association, the NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots and the Southwest Airline Pilots Association.

View the full letter to the FAA