While it is rare for flight schools to drug test students, it isn’t unheard of, and it certainly isn’t a good idea for student pilots to do drugs, even if they aren’t going to be inside the cockpit shortly after.

In this article, we cover FAA regulations when it comes to drugs, especially if drug testing is required during the medical exam, what happens if a pilot refuses a drug test or is caught using drugs, what drugs are tested for, and more.

Some Flight Schools Drug Test Students

Generally, flight schools won’t drug test students, though the larger the flight school, the more likely they will have a drug testing program in place for students.

Student pilots of even the biggest flight schools may never be drug tested, but it’s always a possibility and drugs should be avoided.

University and collegiate flight training providers are more likely to drug test students than others.

What Happens When a Student Pilot Fails a Drug Test

If a student pilot fails a drug test, what happens next will be down to the flight training school they are enrolled in.

Some flight schools may immediately terminate the student’s training and inform the FAA and local law enforcement, which would ruin a student’s chance of ever being able to fly commercially.

Flight Schools Won’t Drug Test Flight Instructors

The FAA does not require flight schools to drug test their flight instructors, though some flight training providers will have a drug testing program in place.

Commercial & Airline Pilots Get Drug Tested

Employers of commercial and especially airline pilots have drug testing programs in place, and pilots may undergo drug testing in several instances, including:

  • Pre-employment
  • Random: The FAA currently sets annual rates at 50%
  • Post-accident: No later than 32 hours after the accident
  • Reasonable cause: Due to physical, behavioral, and performance anomalies
  • Return to duty: After having previously tested positive or refused to take a test before being allowed back to work
  • Follow-up: Pilots who have previously passed a return to duty drug test are subject to six random follow-up tests in the first 12 months from returning to duty

FAA Regulations state that employers must follow Procedures for Transportation Workplace Drug and Alcohol Testing Programs from the US Department of Transportation (DOT).

Prohibited drugs that are tested for include marijuana, cocaine, opiates, phencyclidine (PCP), and amphetamines.

The FAA Medical Doesn’t Test for Drugs

Pilots are required to take a urine test during their medical, but this tests for sugars and proteins as possible indicators of diabetes or kidney disease.

In other words, any pilot, regardless if they are seeking a first-class, second-class, or third-class medical certificate, will not be drug tested.

If You’ve Ever Done Drugs, You Can Still Become a Pilot

If an aspiring pilot has ever done drugs, they can still qualify for a pilot license, as long as they were not convicted of a drug charge.

Pilots are required to fill in FAA Form 8500-8 when they apply for a medical certificate that asks about “Substance dependence or failed a drug test ever; or substance abuse or use of illegal substance in the last 2 years.”

If answered yes:

  • The Examiner will obtain a detailed description of the history.
  • A history of substance dependence or abuse is disqualifying.
  • The Examiner must defer issuance of a certificate if there is doubt concerning an applicant’s substance use.

Pilots Should Be Careful With CBD Oil

Pilots are allowed to use CBD oil, though as the THC content in CBD oil is largely unregulated, a pilot may unknowingly have THC in their system and fail a drug test, which can be disastrous for their career.

What Happens If a Pilot Fails a Drug Test

If a pilot fails a drug test, they are subject to suspension or revocation of their FAA Certificates.

More specifically:

  • A pilot will immediately be removed from performing their safety-sensitive duties.
  • The employer will report any violation to the FAA within 2 working days and also has the choice to terminate the pilot’s job.
  • Upon a positive test result, the medical review officer (MRO) will call the pilot to discuss if there is a legitimate medical explanation for testing positive.
  • The FAA will send a Letter of Investigation or Emergency Order of Revocation.
  • A pilot may be able to return to duty as a pilot if they meet with a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) who will recommend education and/or treatment and document everything to a pilot’s current or future employer.
  • If the SAP is satisfied that the pilot has successfully completed the education and/or treatment recommendations, they may return to duty and undergo follow-up drug testing procedures

What Happens If a Pilot Refuses a Drug Test

Any pilot license holder can refuse a drug test, but will suffer the consequences of refusal.

FAR 120.11 states that refusal is grounds for:

  • Denial of an application for any certificate, rating, or authorization issued under part 61 of this chapter for a period of up to 1 year after the date of such refusal; and
  • Suspension or revocation of any certificate, rating, or authorization issued under part 61 of this chapter.

Refusal of a drug test doesn’t solely mean outright refusal to take a test, but also failure to appear for a drug test within a reasonable amount of time, failing to comply with all testing procedures, leaving before the testing process is complete, and being confrontational.

Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.

Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.

Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.