How Often Are Airline Pilots Drug Tested? (5 Needling Facts)

Picure of a Drugged or Drunk Pilot
Drunk on Deck. Are Pilots Drug Tested?

When it’s time to fly do you ever wonder, “How Often Are Airline Pilots Drug Tested?”

Maybe even ” I wonder if the pilot has a hangover?”

There is always a possibility that a pilot uses drugs as well as alcohol and still reports to work.

How Often Are Airline Pilots Drug Tested?

Airline pilots are drug tested pre-employment. Thereafter, they are not subject to a specific timeframe and are randomly tested by “a valid scientific method.”

1. What Drugs Are Pilots Tested For?

Before a job is offered to a Commercial Pilot:

The DOT (Department of Transportation)tests for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, phencyclidine (PCP), and amphetamines.

A blood test is taken to assure against kidney disease or diabetes but no alcohol test is given.

There has been a controversy about the addition of Fentanyl to the list due to the deaths of a pilot and his wife.

This happens each time there is a drug-related aviation incident involving any drug not on the list.

Airlines have the prerogative of adding additional tests to be done at their discretion and could require an alcohol test.

2. Schedule Of Drug Testing

As of 2022, the FAA has set the standard of a minimum of random drug and alcohol tests to be 25 percent of all safety-sensitive employees for random drug tests and 10 percent of safety-sensitive employees for random alcohol tests.

This means that a pilot may slip through the cracks and go years without ever being tested.

Another pilot may experience a test every year or more. (The way the approved scientific method “works.”)

Many companies have a policy in place that requires drug and alcohol testing to be conducted in the event of an accident or an incident.

These tests include each and every person that would have been involved in any aspect of the flight in question.

3. Drug Testing Enhances Safety. A Misconception?

The FAA promotes drug testing as an enhancement to safety, and truly if it saves one life it is a worthy cause.

As strenuous as it is to be the pilot in command or first officer, I find it hard to imagine using any type of drug or alcohol while flying an aircraft.

The value of my own life and the lives of others is far too great to place them in jeopardy by not being at the top of my game.

Far too many times in my career there were intensely frightening situations that required me to be fully conscious of my every action to stay alive.

It is a shame that there are pilots sick enough to use alcohol or any drug which could impair judgment.

4. Is Drug Use Really A Serious Problem Among Pilots?

There is a lot of controversy about airline pilot testing for drugs or alcohol. But the truth of the matter is that this group of people is very responsible.

Extensive studies have been done concerning airline pilot drug use and they have found that it is quite uncommon for Pilots to be using drugs.

You can read more about this information here.

My experience throughout my career in aviation has been that I never was aware of anyone that was using any form of drug or alcohol on duty.

Alcohol usage was fairly limited among the group of people working in areas that were considered sensitive. I was never aware of alcohol on the job.

5. Does Drug Testing Work?

Drug tests certainly work whenever there is an accident or incident since most companies will require a test in these cases.

An alcohol test will likely be conducted as well.

The discovery of an impaired pilot is not an acceptable scenario, but it does happen.

A negative test is an outcome that rules out pilot or other safety-sensitive employees impairment.

Random drug testing is meant to deter people in safety-sensitive positions from the use of drugs and /or alcohol.

I did not give much credibility to the random test.

I always got a phone call in the morning and was informed that I needed to report to a testing facility. They never caught me drinking in my sleep.


Pilots Unions have continuously opposed drug testing stating that the aviation industry should be self-policing and this type of testing is a violation of privacy and is unconstitutional.

Unions agreed to pre-employment, post-accident, rehabilitation, and reasonable suspicion test but opposed random tests.

From my perspective, I can see the argument from both sides.

Random tests are very annoying since they never found me guilty. The tests were always on my time and no compensation was offered for time spent on testing.

As stated earlier in this article never in my career has any flight crewmember appeared to be intoxicated with any substance.

The controversy will continue.

It’s sad that personal responsibility has deteriorated and that crew members do not remember that “Safety comes FIRST.”

A lot of time and money was spent stacking up certificates and ratings to throw it away on a bottle of booze or pills.

It was not an option to allow someone to take away my dream!

Related: Why Do Pilots Say “Niner”? 5 Things about “Pilot Talk”


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