Delhi High Court approves random drug testing for pilots, cabin crew, ATC staff

Drug test for pilots
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The Delhi High Court has approved the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) decision to require random drug testing for aviation personnel, including flight crew, cabin crew, and air traffic control staff.

“After perusing CAR [Civil Aviation Requirement, ed.-] as also after hearing parties and their counsels, it is clear that the testing of personnel for psychoactive substances is essential, considering the nature of services being rendered”, the Delhi High Court said in its decision dated December 2, 2022.

The decision was released in response to the Indian Pilots Guild and the Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) Guild’s proposal to review Section 5 of the CAR, which was updated by the country’s Ministry of Civil Aviation in September 2021.

According to The Hindu, flight crew members and ATC workers argued that the new rules regarding drug testing does not consider the consumption of several necessary medications, such as those used to treat diabetes or hypertension. The staff also questioned the shortage of qualified Medical Review Officers (MROs) to conduct testing.

However, the court assured that drug testing is being performed to check for six substances, which do not generally include hypertension medicine or anti-diabetic medication. Those substances are amphetamine and amphetamine-based stimulants, opiates, and metabolites, cannabis, cocaine, barbiturates, and benzodiazepine, the court added.

“According to the DGCA, the above substances do not generally include hypertension medicines or anti-diabetic medications. Thus, there is no need to give any specific exception, as the positive testing is only for the above six substances,” the court document said.

While the court admitted that, the country only has a limited number of personnel trained to perform such tests as present, it ensured that “over time” the number will be significantly increased.

What happens when aviation personnel fail drug testing?

While the DGCA has been performing breath analyzer checks for both airline and airport employees for a number of years, the regulator recently introduced an additional measure to ensure the sobriety of personnel while on duty.   

Following the DGCA guideline update, which came into effect on January 31, 2022, random mandatory drug testing is performed to check at least 10% of the active aviation staff. As per the DGCA rules, if a person fails the drug test once, the result should be confirmed by a second test once they report for duty.

If the result of the second test turns out to be positive, the employee is suspended from duty and will have to undergo rehab treatment before they are allowed to return to their position.  If an employee tests positive repeatedly, they will lose their license for three years. Eventually, a persistent offender will lose their license permanently, the DGCA guidance states.

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