The Plane Truth: Interview with a commercial passenger pilot

CMM Technology has recently conducted an absorbing interview with a commercial passenger pilot, focusing on safety and drug and alcohol approaches in the aviation industry.

CMM Technology:  Welcome to CMM, Richard. Can you let us know how long you have been flying and your current credentials?

Richard*: I’ve been flying for about 15 years now and do mainly long haul passenger flights across the globe. It’s great work. I love it. Enjoyably demanding with real moral and ethical responsibilities.

CMM Technology: What do you mean by ethical and moral responsibilities?

Richard: I suppose what I am referring relates mainly to the welfare and safety of passengers and all on board. We do an incredible amount of training and the wellbeing of passengers is paramount.

CMM Technology: In view of passenger safety, how do you feel about mandatory drug and alcohol testing and workplace culture issues in relation to pilots, alcohol and substances?

Richard: I feel fine about it. It’s essential. CASA launched the Australia’s State Aviation Safety Program in January this year[1] It includes the regulation of drug and alcohol management plans and testing. And quite frankly, if you choose to be a pilot, compliance with any testing procedures- mandatory or voluntary is paramount. Look, the reality is we are transporting people – families, children, mothers, fathers, grandfather and grandmothers. Human beings. It’s our ethical duty to undertake testing and to remain stringent about guidelines on safety and legislative policies and procedures on alcohol and drugs. We had a major review in 2004[2] after the 2002 Hamilton Island incident – and then that was followed up with the mandatory testing procedures in 2008[3] for safety sensitive personnel. And really, when you look at it, drugs and alcohol have played a part in some fairly serious incidents over the years. There’s the Exxon Valdez oil spill in ’89, our own Hamilton Island crash, and a stream of incidents in the U.S.

Scientific evidence points to cognitive functioning and psychomotor efficacy reductions because of drugs and alcohol, and that is something that is an absolute no-go in our profession. We need to monitor pilot use and misuse, because the effects compromise our safety standards. Misuse and abuse kills. It’s about lives.

CMM Technology: What is your view on the distinction between “under the influence” and “impairment” in relation to pilot use of alcohol and other substances?

Richard: My personal and professional view is we need zero-tolerance in respect of both. Look, “impairment” is a subjective terminology and can be difficult to gauge, to note and to prove. But we can do it. We already have pilot self-monitoring sheets as part of our approach and that’s great. I suppose we also have to ask, “What constitutes impairment?  A hangover…fatigue due to a bit of a binge a couple of nights before?”  You know…how do we accurately identify impairment?  I suppose I am such a supporter of mandatory testing for that very reason. It is the base-level starting point from which we need to build a safe and secure and ethical professional approach to alcohol and flying.  There is of course, the possibility of a pilot being impaired (due to a hangover and fatigue from past drinking,) while still registering as ok on the breathalyzer. But the use of that breathalyser is a practical and scientific and also a psychological starting point. It communicates a new kind of model for pilots – a professional and a personal/psychological benchmark within an industry with a subtext that shouts loud and clear “WE DON’T COMPROMISE SAFETY.”  We need to have testing and we need to keep a check on an industry’s drinking culture. Testing does that.

And that is what is needed.

CMM Technology: Richard, thank you so much for your views and your time.

Richard:  No problem. It’s a pleasure.

*(Pilot identity has been protected with use of pseudonym.)

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[2] Aviation safety Investigation Report

[3] Federal Register of Legislative Instruments F2008L04586. Instrument number Civil Aviation AOD 2008/2

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