Avionics News July 2020 - 72

industry

UPDATED NTSB STUDY
FINDS INCREASING
TREND OF PILOT DRUG
USE IN FATAL ACCIDENTS
S T O R Y

A

B Y

L I N D S E Y

recently updated National Transportation Safety Board
study found a continuing increasing trend of drug use
by pilots in fatal accidents. The study covered the five
years between 2013 and 2017, which included over 1,000
aviation accidents in the U.S. in which the flying pilot was
fatally injured. For the purposes of this study, a
positive toxicology finding meant that a drug
- whether impairing or not - was identified
in a pilot's blood or tissue.
Safety issues identified in the study
update include (1) the ongoing
need for the Federal Aviation
Administration to publicize - for
pilots' use - information about
marijuana given its decriminalization
in several states and its unchanged
classification as an illicit drug per
federal law; and (2) the continued need
for the FAA to conduct research to assess
the relationship between drug use and accident
risk.
Specifically, the Board concluded, "Increasing trends were
identified in the proportions of study pilots testing positive for
at least one drug categorized as potentially impairing, used
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2020

M C F A R R E N

to treat a potentially impairing condition, or as a controlled
substance."
The study points to the overall increase in drug use
- including prescribed medications, over-the-counter
medications, and illicit drugs - in the overall population, with
increasing evidence of marijuana use by pilots. In 2017,
48% of fatally injured pilots tested positive for at
least one substance.
The General Aviation Joint Steering
Committee, an industry/FAA working
group that works to improve safety based
on metrics, identified this topic as a
key safety concern in 2012. The group
concluded drugs prohibited by the FAA
contributed to 12% of general aviation
loss-of-control accidents.
In 2013, the FAA and 11 pilot and
industry groups, including the Aircraft
Electronics Association, sent a letter to all
pilots advising them of the risk of potentially
impairing drugs and - in particular - warned pilots of
the impact of seemingly innocuous over-the-counter drugs,
many of which contain sedating antihistamines.
The GAJSC also made drug use a safety-enhancement



Avionics News July 2020

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