Cannot someone establish a Maximum Authorized Altitude on the height of bureaucratic folly? Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the largest general aviation organization, has recently published figures provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) listing the major causes of aircraft accidents: poor pilot judgement, weather, structural or system failure, and so forth. Where are the figures which reveal the most critical cause of aircraft accidents is really drugs? Where are any data which conclusively show drugs to be a significant causal factor in any aircraft accident? If there are no such figures, then why has FAA been pressured to be first in line with a Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) calling for mandatory testing of pilots and other aviation professionals for illegal drugs in the name of increasing the safety of flying?

Please spare me such leaps of reason as, "Cocaine was found in the pilotís corpse; the drug is illegal because it is dangerous; therefore drugs caused the accident." Please also spare me the conclusion, "An illegal drug caused the accident; the pilot was thus criminally negligent; therefore, the pilotís employer has to pay all the damages." Having taken those huge leaps, it becomes all too easy for employers to rationalize their all-too-reasonable fear of liability suit by further concluding, "Aviation safety is therefore best promoted by the mandatory drug testing of everyone who flies for a living." Since employers would rather not take the blame for demanding the tests, and one can only blame so much on the insurance companies, they would certainly prefer the order to come from some other desk. FAA is the handy and obvious tool.

Pilots, however, are one of the worker groups least likely to be using the drugs which are the declared objects of the testing program. They are likely to be more safety-conscious, health-conscious, and self-disciplined than most others. Yet pilots (and their Air Traffic Controller counterparts) are the first group of workers which has been singled out as without question having the job most severely mandating drug tests.

If the generals of the "drug war" were looking for a group with a high likelihood of drug use while controlling public transportation vehicles which have an extremely high accident rate, the obvious top offender is automobiles -- so why is there no clamor to make drug testing mandatory for taxicab drivers?

Americaís aviation safety record is excellent, by any standard which could be uniformly applied to American industry across the board -- and pilots operate in one of the more dangerous environments. Their professional standards are high, despite all the media fear-mongering about incompetent pilots.The skeptical non-flier is invited to try putting his or her next couple of years into earning the Commercial-Instrument Pilot rating needed just to submit an application for work. To select pilots as the group most needing drug policing to ensure safety on the job is an insult to one of Americaís finest professional corps.

Then why is it being done? If safety were truly the goal, the concern might more sensibly be with those drugs more likely to be used by pilots and more likely to cause interference with their ability: that is, their prescription sleeping aids, pain killers, diet amphetamines, and tranquilizers. However, these are not the subject of the tests. The tests are looking for opiates, marijuana, and cocaine, the big-bucks black market stuff. It is all too easy to infer this is not really an aviation safety matter, but a Drug Enforcement Agency program pursued for the sake of establishing an enforcement precedent.

But why pilots? Because they are a group whose low level of use will probably produce a low level of protest, a group already accustomed to high levels of professional regulation. They are also a group with a high level of social paranoia associated with them. In spite of the statistics in its favor, lots of people still fear flying, and would vote to have pilots lobotomized and implanted with Mode-C attitude adjustors if they thought it would ease their discomfort at seeing another airplaneful of people spread across forty acres of newspaper headline.

If those whose goal is to increase enforced government surveillance and control over the lives of Americans in the name of the "drug war" had to take the issue of mandatory drug testing of anyone to the Supreme Court, the proposal would likely fail. By slipping it in as an FAR, not a law but a regulation, they can bypass the legislative bodies of nation and state. The proposal to make drug testing an FAR requirement is an attempt to use the FAA as the tool of another department. If anybody in a position of critical responsibility "needs" drug testing on the job, then let us begin with the Congress...that is, if the Congress will pass a law permitting the expedient waiver of the Constitution of the United States of America.

Simple 'Siris wants to know!


Having read of McCarthy days, I have known of my countryís potential for discarding the rights and protections of any citizen in persecution of some feared element of the population. In that context, the "shootdown law" recently called for by the Drug Generals was an awakening to new horror. The proposal, which was narrowly defeated, would have granted the "drug warriors" the power to shoot airplanes down which were believed to be carrying contraband into the United States. Courageous leaders against the brutal proposal spoke principally in defense of innocent pilots mistaken for smugglers. Yet even they seem to tacetly suggest it might be all right to destroy an airplane known to be smuggling.

Piloting a smuggling plane violates several criminal statutes, Federal Aviation Regulations, and Customs Regulations, but none of those is a capital offense. Shooting down a dirty airplane may seem an easy idea to accept, but the act is a mandatory death sentence for the people aboard...smugglers, pilots under duress, hostages, et al. Their trial would be an official Coast Guard identification checklist, their judge a Customs Department bureaucrat, and their executioner a civil servant just following orders. Where neither the letter nor the process of law give sanction to such official taking of life, the correct word which applies is assassination, or to use the word usually applied to illegal murder by governments, liquidation.

If smuggling pilots may soon be shot dead upon being identified as such, what else might a zero-tolerance policy authorize or require every Tom, Dick, and Dirty Harry in government service to anyone?

This is not so much an aviation issue, or even a drug issue, as a challenge to those basic rights and protections which guarantee free private citizenship, and which I was taught are the critical factors which set America apart from less-righteous nations, such that we should call ourselves The Free World, and assume a moral mandate to police the lives of others. How sad to see the same people who fought to preserve those rights in the 1940ís casting them away in the 1990ís in their largely-vain attempt to violently enforce laws of questionable reason and morality which prohibit world-popular (even if dangerous) practices.

James Nathan Post

Simple 'Siris wants to know!