Aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), on Monday, issued new regulations that mandate random tests on airline crews, air traffic controllers, maintenance engineers and other personnel for the consumption of psychoactive substances, such as amphetamine, cannabis, cocaine, and opioids.
The Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) pertaining to air safety laid down the procedure to examine aviation personnel for the consumption of psychoactive substances. The circular, which will be applicable to commercial aircraft operators, maintenance and repair organisations (MROs), training organisations, and air navigation service providers, will be effective from January 31, 2022.
The new regulations ask airlines and airports to conduct random checks on crew and air traffic controllers on duty and after flights. If found positive in the screening and confirmatory tests, they will have to undergo rehabilitation. If found positive for the second time, their licence could be suspended for a minimum of three years. It could be permanently revoked for a third violation.
“All scheduled commercial aircraft operators and air navigation service providers shall conduct random drug testing for the consumption of psychoactive substances by flight crew members and air traffic controllers employed by them respectively at the facilities established by them using the services of an appropriate laboratory,” the circular said. It added that the organisations will have to ensure that at least 10 per cent of the employees are covered in a year.
The circular asks organisations to use a scientifically valid method, such as a random number table or a computer-based random number generator, to select the employees for testing using the unique identifying number. “Organisations must ensure that all employees have an equal chance of being tested each time the selection is made. Specific individuals, groups or locations must not be targeted,” the circular said.
It asks the stakeholders to report positive cases to the DGCA within 24 hours and directs them to conduct education programmes about the ill effects of psychoactive substances, their treatments and rehabilitation.
The random testing will be carried out for the use of amphetamine and amphetamine type stimulants, opiates, cannabis, cocaine, barbiturates and benzodiazepine. The circular states that such tests should be carried out post flight/post shift or anytime during the duty period. It should not be carried out while the employee is on leave or on a rest period. It said that the pre-flight testing requirement should be introduced in due course after organisations build the infrastructure and capacity for it.
According to the testing procedure, if a urine sample-based screening test is positive, the employee should be immediately removed from the safety duty till a confirmatory test report is received. If the confirmatory test is positive, the concerned employee should be referred to a specialist doctor or de-addiction centre for a de-addiction or rehabilitation programme. The employee can return to active duties again only if further tests are negative, the circular said.
The CAR has been issued after the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment published a study in February 2019 which stated that, after alcohol, cannabis and opioids are the next commonly used psychoactive substances in India. 2.8 per cent of the population had used some cannabis product within the previous year, the study said. “The worldwide spread of the use of psychoactive substances, their general availability and the ever-increasing number of addicted users is a serious concern to aviation safety. Their use causes behavioural, cognitive and physiological changes. This manifests in dependence, major health-related issues and a negative effect on performance,” the circular said.
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