Random drug testing for pilots could ease safety concerns, aviation experts say

Random drug testing for pilots could ease safety concerns, aviation experts say

Bringing back random drug testing for pilots could be a good idea after a pilot was sent to jail for being impaired while in control of a Sunwing Airlines jet, aviation experts say.

Miroslav Gronych pleaded guilty last month in Calgary to having care and control of an aircraft while intoxicated. He had a blood-alcohol level that would have been three times the legal limit for driving a vehicle, although that measure does not apply to aircraft.

And while experts say nearly all pilots respect the regulations around alcohol and flying, putting extra measures in place — like random testing — could prevent a similar situation from happening again.

"Pilots have a huge responsibility with a lot of passengers sitting behind them," said Leon Cygman, the chair of Mount Royal University's aviation program. "I think those passengers would like to be assured that the pilot is sober and able to fly the plane."

According to Canadian aviation regulations, members of a flight crew are prohibited from working within eight hours of consuming alcohol or while under the influence of alcohol. 

Pilot Jock Williams said there's no testing method currently in place to ensure pilots aren't flying while impaired.

"It might be worthwhile to institute some form of random drug testing," Williams, who is a former flight safety official, told the Calgary Eyeopener. "I worked for Greater Toronto Area Airports Authority when they had one and I thought it worked very well."

Support for policy

Williams and Cygman, however, say they don't think a drug testing policy would be welcomed with open arms in the aviation community.

"The biggest thing is the system of self control by the pilots has worked, as it has with physicians and lawyers and other professionals," said Williams. "We don't test them and I don't think that, as yet, we see there's not enough of a problem [within aviation] to do it."

Despite the fact Gronych made it to the cockpit before being removed from the flight, both experts say the system currently in place worked. 

"There are checks and balances in place in the aviation world to make sure that everyone on board is able to function and do their job correctly," said Cygman. "And in this case, it worked. The co-pilot did not feel comfortable with the behaviour of the pilot and called him out on it, as he should."

Gronych was sentenced in Calgary to eight months in jail, minus time served, and barred from flying for a year after his release.

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With files from the Calgary Eyeopener and Andrew Brown