Things you should know about FAA drug testing


Alcohol and drug testing are mandated in almost all places across the world and there’s a reason for it. Drug and alcohol testing helps keep the workplace safe and compels the employees to comply with the rules. Nationwide drug testing also contributes to reducing any costs related to workplace accidents and builds credibility for the company. Almost all industries benefit a lot by implementing drug testing protocols.

Some employees, however, are not in the favour of drug testing and see it as something that invades their privacy and right to freedom. A workplace owner needs to know if their employees are working under the influence of illicit drugs or alcohol and hence, the FAA has created a set of guidelines for nationwide drug testing.

Let’s dive right in for an in-depth explanation of how FAA drug testing works!

What is FAA drug testing?

Aviation is a high-risk, high-performance profession and one can’t ever take a chance to hire people who might be drug addicts for a profession like this. Federal aviation administration in compliance with DOT has developed a policy for testing their employees for any illicit drug or alcohol use and it’s called the FAA drug testing.

How was this policy established and approved?

Federal agencies were required to come up with a drug-testing program for their employees, and the Department of Transportation created a comprehensive program for the same. FAA was included in the cascade and it included drug testing for air traffic controllers and cover pilots. Most of the workplaces and offices have a drug testing policy nowadays. These policies not only include the pilots and traffic handlers but they also include baggage handlers and mechanics to create a safe space for their customers and employees.

Usually, employees in the aviation industry are not found to be involved in drug abuse. But the recent reports from General Aviation News suggest that more and more pilots involved in fatal crashes are using prescription or illicit drugs. Due to the high-risk and responsibility involved in the profession, drug-testing is mandated for pilots. In fact, a lot of private airlines create their own drug testing policies in addition to FAA testing. These policies compel the employees to stay off duty and undergo a treatment program if found to be using any drugs. However, the employer is allowed to take disciplinary action or terminate the services of an individual if a second violation is detected.

How does one get tested as an aviation employee?

The testing protocol follows a certain order right from the pre-employment testing to periodic testing. Employers conduct drug testing in compliance with the DOT’s “Procedures for Transportation Workplace Drug Testing Programs” Under Section 120 of the Federal Aviation Regulations as follows:

Pre-employment drug testing:

An employer is supposed to conduct a pre-employment drug test before hiring a new individual or transferring one from a non-safety sensitive function to a safety-sensitive function. Following substances are looking for while conducting the test:

  • Cocaine
  • Opiates
  • Marijuana
  • Phencyclidine
  • Meth (Amphetamines)

Any metabolites related to the above-mentioned substances

Random drug testing

This test involves conducting a drug test on 50% of employees selected at random without any bias.

Post-accident/post-incident drug testing

This is to be conducted within 32 hours of an accident and it involves employees who contributed to or were injured by an accident at the workplace.

Reasonable-cause drug testing

If an employee demonstrates any behavior suggesting that they’re under the influence of a substance, a reasonable cause drug testing is conducted on them.

Return to duty drug testing

Employees who previously tested positive for drugs and are now allowed to come back after rehab and treatment are tested under this protocol.

Follow-up drug testing

This is conducted on employees who came out to be clean in their return-to-duty drug test. Usually, the follow-up time is two months for the first year. It can be variable based on the company’s own regulations.

What are the rules for The Federal Aviation Administration’s Drug and Alcohol Testing?

DOT and FAA collaborate and create guidelines for the Airport drug testing in which, they work together to decide what substances and employees are covered under the drug testing.

Which employees are covered by the DOT – FAA drug and alcohol testing rules?

Each employee who performs high-risk or safety-sensitive functions is supposed to undergo employee drug testing.

  • Aircraft dispatchers
  • Air traffic control
  • Ground security
  • Flight attendants
  • Aviation screening
  • Flight crewmembers
  • Flight instruction
  • Aircraft maintenance and preventive maintenance

When are these employees tested?

According to the guidelines provided by DOT, these employees should be tested under all the testing protocols mentioned above. From pre-employment to random drug testing, employees need to make sure that they never show up to the workplace while under influence.

Who performs the drug and alcohol testing procedures?

Certified collectors and drug testing agencies are responsible for sample collection and testing for the FAA. These agencies are very well aware and compliant with the DOT drug testing guidelines. They make sure that the sample remains as it is, without contamination, before the test. Various test procedures like urine analysis and breathalyzer tests are used for these protocols.

FAA Random Drug Testing Requirements for Pilots

Pilots are employees who hold the highest responsibility in the aviation industry. They are subject to random drug testing very frequently to protect the safety of the flight. The chosen pilots only get a notice a few hours before the testing.


Drug testing has become an important part of employment procedures, especially in high-risk professions. Aviation is one such industry, and they cannot compromise on the quality of employees they hire. FAA has provided the perfect set of guidelines for FAA drug testing in compliance with DOT testing protocol, and this guide will give you a detailed idea about the same.