FAA Drug and Alcohol Regulations

FAA Drug and Alcohol Rules: An Overview

The following is a general overview of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) drug and alcohol testing rules for persons required to safety-sensitive duties and/or to receive a certificate from the FAA. The information is intended to provide a general summary of the rules. A comprehensive list of the alcohol and drug testing rules published by the FAA and the DOT Office of the Secretary (OST) applicable to certificate holders, safety-sensitive employees, and their employers is available here. For help understanding and implementing regulations for the FAA contact us.

What are the Rules?

The FAA regulations require drug and alcohol testing of employees operating in safety-sensitive positions and to receive a certificate from the FAA. The FAA and DOT test for and prohibit the use of the following drugs: marijuana, cocaine, non-prescribed opiates, phencyclidine (PCP), and non-prescribed amphetamines. Employees are also not permitted to perform safety-sensitive functions with an alcohol concentration greater than 0.02. If an employee tests positive for alcohol in a concentration between 0.02 and 0.04 they must not perform safety-sensitive functions until their next regularly scheduled shift (not before 8 hours after the initial positive), or until their alcohol concentration drops below 0.02.

In order to properly implement the drug and alcohol policies as required by the DOT and FAA, an employer must have the following:

  • An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that must include education and training on drug use for employees and training for supervisors making determinations for testing of employees based on reasonable cause.
  • 60-minutes of drug and alcohol use recognition training for supervisors in roles that must make such determinations.
  • A Drug and Alcohol Testing Program that conducts pre-employment, random, return-to-duty, follow-up, and reasonable cause testing for safety-sensitive employees.
  • Follow FAA reporting and registration specifications as indicated in 14 CFR Part 120 § 120.117.
  • For entities of 50 or more employee or if requested by the FAA complete annual MIS reports (Note: Deadline for submitting MIS reports are March 15th, they must include testing statistics and information from the calendar year prior. MIS reports can be filed by your C/TPA or you can view FAA’s guide to filing the MIS report here.)

Follow all other DOT requirements for drug and alcohol testing as dictated in 49 CFR Part 40.

Who Are Affected by These Rules?

The FAA rules apply to anyone performing safety-sensitive functions regardless of their employment status as full-time, part-time, contractor, or any tier of subcontractor. The following are positions the FAA defines as safety-sensitive:

(a) Flight crewmember duties.

(b) Flight attendant duties.

(c) Flight instruction duties.

(d) Aircraft dispatcher duties.

(e) Aircraft maintenance and preventive maintenance duties.

Ground security coordinator duties.

(g) Aviation screening duties.

(h) Air traffic control duties.

What Alcohol Use is Prohibited?

Alcohol is a legal substance; therefore, the rules prohibit specific alcohol-related conduct. Performance of safety-sensitive functions is prohibited:

  • While using alcohol.
  • While having a breath alcohol concentration of .02 percent or greater as indicated by an alcohol breath test.
  • Within four hours after using alcohol.

In addition, refusing to submit to an alcohol test or using alcohol within eight hours after an accident or until tested is prohibited.

What Alcohol Tests Are Required?

The following alcohol tests are required:

  • Post-accident – conducted as soon as practicable after accidents on any safety-sensitive employees whose performance could have contributed to the accident. The test must be conducted within 8 hours, and if not conducted within 2 hours, there must be a recorded purpose for the delay.
  • Reasonable suspicion – conducted when a trained supervisor or company official observes behavior or appearance that is characteristic of alcohol misuse.
  • Random – conducted on a random unannounced basis just before, during, or after the performance of safety-sensitive functions.
  • Return-to-duty and follow-up – conducted when an individual who has violated the alcohol conduct standards returns to performing safety-sensitive duties. Follow-up tests are unannounced. At least six tests must be conducted in the first 12 months after an employee returns to duty. Follow-up testing may be extended for up to 60 months following return to duty.

How Does Random Alcohol Testing Work?

Random alcohol testing must be conducted just before, during, or after an employee’s performance of safety-sensitive duties. The employee is randomly selected for testing from a “pool” of subject employees. The testing dates and times are unannounced and are reasonably spread throughout the year. Each year, the number of random tests conducted by the employer must equal at least 10% of the average number of positions subject to the regulations.

How Will Alcohol Testing Be Done?

The rules allow for screening tests to be conducted using saliva devices or breath testing using evidential breath testing (EBT) and non-evidential breath testing devices approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA periodically publishes a list of approved devices in the Federal Register.

Two tests are required to determine if a person has a prohibited alcohol concentration. A screening test is conducted first. Any result less than 0.02 alcohol concentration is considered a “negative” test. If the alcohol concentration is 0.02 or greater, a second confirmation test must be conducted. The employee and the individual conducting the confirmation breath test (called a Breath Alcohol Technician (BAT)) complete the Alcohol Testing Form to ensure that the results are properly recorded. The confirmation test, if required, must be conducted using an Evidential Breathe Testing (EBT) device that prints out the results, date, time, sequential test number, and the name and the serial number of the EBT used to ensure the reliability of the results. The confirmation test results determine any actions taken.

Testing procedures that ensure accuracy, reliability, and confidentiality of test results are outlined in the Part 40 rule. These procedures include training and proficiency requirements for the Screening Test Technicians (STT) and BAT, quality assurance plans for the breath testing devices (including calibration requirements for a suitable test location), and protection of employee test records.

Who Does the Testing?

Employers are responsible for implementing and conducting testing programs. They may do this using their own employees or contract services, or by joining a Third-Party Administrator/Consortium (C/TPA) that provides services to all member companies. Any individual conducting the test must be trained to operate the EBT and be proficient in the breath testing procedures as outlined in 49 CFR Part 40.

What Are the Consequences of Alcohol Misuse?

Employees who engage in prohibited alcohol conduct must be immediately removed from safety-sensitive functions. Employees who have engaged in alcohol misuse cannot return to safety-sensitive duties until they have been evaluated by a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) and complied with any treatment recommendations to assist them with an alcohol problem. To further safeguard safety, employees who have an alcohol concentration of 0.02-0.04 when tested just before, during or just after performing safety-sensitive functions must also be removed from performing such duties until their next scheduled shift (no earlier than 8 hours after the test), or until their alcohol concentration drops below 0.02. If an employee’s behavior or appearance suggests alcohol misuse, a reasonable suspicion alcohol test must be conducted. If a breath test cannot be administered, the employee must be removed from performing safety-sensitive duties for at least 24 hours.

How Will Employees Know About These Rules?

Employers must provide detailed information about alcohol misuse, the employers’ policy, the testing requirements, and how and where employees can get help for alcohol abuse. Supervisors of safety-sensitive employees must attend at least one hour of training on alcohol misuse symptoms and indicators used in making determinations for reasonable suspicion testing.

Are Employees Entitled to Rehabilitation?

Employees who violate the alcohol misuse rules will be referred to an SAP for evaluation. Any treatment or rehabilitation would be provided in accordance with the employer’s policy or labor/management agreements. The employer is not required under these rules to provide rehabilitation, pay for treatment, or reinstate the employee in his/her safety-sensitive position. Any employer who does decide to return an employee to safety-sensitive duties must ensure that the employee: 1) has been evaluated by an SAP; 2) has complied with any recommended treatment; 3) has taken a return-to-duty alcohol test (with a result less than 0.02); and 4) is subject to unannounced follow-up alcohol tests.

How Will the FAA Know if These Rules are Being Followed?

Employers are required to keep detailed records of their alcohol misuse prevention programs. The FAA will conduct inspections or audits of employers’ programs. Additionally, all employers will have to prepare annual MIS reports for the FAA. These reports will be used to help monitor compliance and enforcement of the rules, as well as to provide data on the extent of alcohol misuse and the need for any future program and regulatory changes. MIS reports can be submitted by your C/TPA on your behalf. To get help with your MIS reports please contact us.

Are Employees' Alcohol Testing Records Confidential?

Yes. Test results and other confidential information may be released only to the employer and the SAP. Any other release of this information is only with the employee’s written consent. If an employee initiates a grievance, hearing, lawsuit, or other action as a result of a violation of these rules, the employer may release relevant information to the decision maker.

Do Foreign Operators Have to Comply With These Rules?

Yes. The FAA requires foreign entities to comply with the alcohol rules when their employees operate in the United States.

What About Drug Testing?

The drug testing rules cover the same employees as the alcohol testing rules. The types of tests required are pre-employment, reasonable suspicion, post-accident, random, return-to-duty, and follow-up tests.

How is Drug Testing Administered?

Drug testing is conducted by analyzing an employee’s urine specimen. The analysis is performed at laboratories certified and monitored by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The list of DHHS approved laboratories is published monthly in the Federal Register.

The employee must provide a urine specimen in a location that affords privacy and complies with DOT collection site regulations as stipulated in 49 CFR Part 40. The collector seals and labels the specimen, completes a chain of custody document, and prepares the specimen and accompanying paperwork for shipment to a drug-testing laboratory.

The specimen collection procedures and chain of custody ensure that the specimen’s security, proper identification, and integrity, are not compromised. The Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991 requires that drug testing procedures include split specimen collections. Each urine specimen is subdivided into two bottles labeled as a “primary” and a “split” specimen and both bottles are sent to a laboratory. Only the primary specimen is opened and used for the urinalysis. The split specimen bottle remains sealed and is stored at the laboratory. If the analysis of the primary specimen confirms the presence of illegal controlled substances, the employee has 72 hours to request the split specimen be sent to another DHHS-certified laboratory for analysis.

What Drugs are Tested For?

All urine specimens are analyzed for the following drugs:

  1. Marijuana (THC metabolite)
  2. Cocaine
  3. Amphetamines
  4. Opiates (including heroin)
  5. Phencyclidine (PCP)

The testing is a two-stage process. First, a screening test is performed. If it is positive for one or more of the drugs, then a confirmation test is performed for each identified drug using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) analysis. GC/MS confirmation ensures that over-the-counter medications or preparations are not reported as positive results.

Who Reviews and Interprets the Laboratory Results?

All drug test results are reviewed and interpreted by a physician known as a Medical Review Officer (MRO) before they are reported to the employer. If the laboratory reports a positive result to the MRO, the MRO contacts the employee (in person or by telephone) and conducts an interview to determine if there is an alternative medical explanation for the drugs found in the employee’s urine specimen. If the employee provides appropriate documentation and the MRO determines that it is a legitimate medical use of the prohibited drug, the drug test result is reported as negative to the employer.

What Drug Use is Prohibited?

The drug rules prohibit any unauthorized use of the controlled substances. Illicit use of drugs by safety-sensitive employees is prohibited on or off duty. DOT drug tests will test for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, phencyclidine (PCP), and amphetamines, as specified in 49 CFR 40.85.

What Are the Consequences of a Positive Drug Test?

An employee must be removed from safety-sensitive duty if he/she has a positive drug test result. The removal cannot take place until the MRO has interviewed the employee and determined that the positive drug test resulted from the unauthorized use of a controlled substance. An employee cannot be returned to safety-sensitive duties until they have been evaluated by a substance abuse professional, has complied with recommended rehabilitation, and has a negative result on a return-to-duty drug test. Follow-up testing to monitor the employee’s continued abstinence from drug use is also required.

Regulations require all return-to-duty and follow-up testing to be conducted under direct observation procedures. During a direct observation, a collector or observer of the same gender has the donor pull their pants down to thigh level and pull up their shirt to demonstrate they have no devices to store urine or a urine substitute (the gender of the observer should match the gender identity of the donor as indicated by the donor).  The collector/observer then observes as the donor provides the specimen.  The observer must observe the donor urinating into the specimen container.

How Does Random Drug Testing Work?

Employers are responsible for conducting random, unannounced drug tests. The total number conducted each year must equal at least 25% of the safety-sensitive employees. Some employees may be tested more than once each year; some may not be tested at all depending on the random selection. Once notified of selection for testing an employee must proceed immediately to a collection site to accomplish the urine specimen collection.