November 9, 2017

Substance Testing Not On Radar


Canada’s Transport Minister is showing no signs of mandating random drug and alcohol testing for aviation workers even though the industry itself is asking for regulations.

In response to a question posed during a Skype appearance at the Air Transport Association of Canada meeting in Montreal this week, Marc Garneau cited the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in sidestepping a call for regulatory guidance in the prevention of substance abuse-related accidents.

The call came after the release of a Transportation Safety Board report last week that highlighted substance abuse as a potential contributing factor in the crash of a Carson Air cargo aircraft in early 2015.

The pilot of that aircraft was severely drunk (.24 blood alcohol count) when he took off just after 7 a.m. on a flight that ended six minutes later with an abrupt dive that resulted in an in-flight breakup of the Metroliner. The TSB listed suicide as another potential factor in the crash but in the absence of a cockpit voice or flight data recorder said it couldn’t definitively pinpoint a cause. There were no distress calls from the aircraft.

The crash killed the captain, Robert Brandt, 34 and his first officer Kevin Wang. An autopsy revealed the high level of alcohol and also found evidence of long-term alcohol abuse in the young captain. Wang was free of intoxicating substances.

Although there were suspicions about Brandt’s apparent addiction, no action had been taken beyond keeping an eye on him and the question posed to the minister indicates industry leaders want regulatory support to help them keep their flights safe.

The TSB has also called for government regulations. “What is needed is a comprehensive substance abuse program that would include mandatory testing as well as complementary initiatives such as education, employee assistance, rehabilitation and peer support,” said TSB Chair Kathy Fox.“We realize that employees within Canada’s aviation industry will have concerns under any possible testing regime. This is why we recommend that the substance abuse program consider and balance the need to incorporate human rights principles enshrined in the Canadian Human Rights Act with the responsibility to protect public safety.”