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.