TSB Recommends Drug and Alcohol Testing for Canadian Aviation Employees

Nov 28, 2017

Following a fatal airplane crash in April of 2015, the Transportation Safety Board, a separate organization from Transport Canada that investigates incidents in pipelines, railways, marine and aviation, is recommending that drug and alcohol tests as well as substance abuse programs be implemented for Canadian pilots.

En route from Vancouver to Prince George, the Carson Air Ltd.’s Swearingen SA226-TC Metro II twin-engine turboprop flight ended tragically when the plane crashed into the mountains of B.C. shortly after take off. Coroner’s reports showed that while the co-pilot was not impaired, the pilot had a blood alcohol level of .24%, which led experts to believe he could have fallen unconscious during the flight.

Prior to the 2015 crash, the TSB had recommended that all small planes be equipped with recorders, as without the hard data these devices provide, it is difficult to determine exact causes of crashes. The cause of the Carson Air crash is still inconclusive, as there was no cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorders on board. Despite this, TSB’s Jason Kobi has said that “the pilot’s impairment was almost certainly a factor.”

In the United States, substance abuse regulations require that flight crew and other specific employees associated with aviation must undergo drug testing and commit to a drug testing program as part of policy, and while Transport Canada has implemented a framework and a set of guidelines for medical examiners, pilots, and other licensed employees performing safety-sensitive roles within aviation, it’s a system that relies on self-policing.


“What we learned has nationwide implications,” it said, “ultimately leading to the recommendation … for Transport Canada to work with the aviation industry and employee representatives to develop requirements for a comprehensive substance abuse program, including drug and alcohol testing, to reduce the risk of on-the-job impairment for those in safety-sensitive positions … [that should] consider and balance the need to incorporate human rights principles in the Canadian Human Rights Act with the responsibility to protect public safety.”

According to the TSB, “at present, there is no regulated drug-and alcohol-testing requirement in place in the Canadian aviation industry … While current laws, regulations, standards, and guidance may be effective at mitigating some of the risks associated with substance use among pilots and others in safety-sensitive transportation functions, there continue to be occurrences in which impaired personnel were not identified, or were not prevented from operating an aircraft.”

After its investigation into the crash, the TSB has stated that the existing professional standard of self-policing insufficiently protects pilots and passengers on flights.