The FAA Drug & Alcohol Testing Program Might Apply to Your Airport

 It appears that the FAA is getting serious about enforcing its drug testing regulations under 14 C.F.R. Part 120.  On June 17th, the FAA released the following press notice, “The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed to assess a $584,375 civil penalty against United Airlines, Inc., of Elk Grove Village, Ill., for allegedly violating FAA and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations for random drug and alcohol testing of safety-sensitive employees.”  According to such press releases so far this calendar year, the FAA has proposed a total of $2 million dollars in fines against four air carriers and operators for failure to properly administer drug testing programs for safety sensitive employees.  Part 120 addresses the drug and alcohol testing program that air carriers and operators must administer for employees engaged in “safety sensitive functions”.

 Because airports are not air carriers or operators, you might think that this FAA testing program does not affect airports.  Maybe…….  However, take a look at the regulation’s listing at Sections 120.105 and 120.215 of employee activities that involve a “safety sensitive function”.  These activities include, among others, “ground security coordinator duties”, “aviation screening duties”, and “aircraft maintenance and preventive maintenance duties”.  Are you starting to see a connection to some activities conducted by some airports as a contractor to air carriers?

 Many small commercial service airports perform various aspects of ground handling for airlines (such as, for example, Allegiant Air), through a contract with the airline.  Many of these ground handling services require the airport to designate an airport employee as a “ground security coordinator” -- a “safety sensitive” function identified in Part 120.  The Part 120 drug and alcohol testing program applies not just to air carriers but also to anyone who performs by contract a safety-sensitive function for an air carrier.  Therefore, airport operators that perform ground handing services for air carriers may need to initiate an FAA drug and alcohol testing program and submit the program to the FAA.

 You also might ask, does the FAA really care whether airports that conduct ground handling activities for air carriers administer an FAA testing program.  Just last month, a small commercial service airport received notice that the FAA would be conducting an inspection of the airport’s drug and alcohol testing programs for compliance with Part 120.  So, it’s a definite “yes” that the FAA is interested.

 Therefore, airports that conduct ground handling activities for airlines need to examine the FAA drug an alcohol testing program to determine whether the airport should be administering the program.  If United Airlines can get tripped up and be assessed penalties for failure to adequately administer its drug testing program, airports venturing into this unfamiliar area should be extra cautious.  You can find information on FAA’s drug and alcohol testing program on the FAA website at the following link:  http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/avs/offices/aam/drug_alcohol/.

 For further information, contact James Briggs, Vice President of Legal Affairs, at jbriggs@aci-na.org.