The Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General will review the case of Spirit Airlines Captain Brian Halye — the Centerville pilot who a coroner’s report said fatally overdosed on cocaine and carfentanil with his wife in March — during an upcoming audit of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Drug Abatement Division.
Aviation experts, including a former DOT inspector general appointed by President George H.W. Bush and retained by President Bill Clinton, said including Halye in the audit will help solve unanswered questions about his death.
A hotline complaint relating to the FAA division first encouraged auditors to look at the office that oversees the aviation industry’s compliance with drug and alcohol testing regulations. The primary focus of the audit will be to assess the effectiveness of the division’s on-site inspection program.
The scope of the audit will now also include the review of Halye’s death, OIG Program Director Tina Nysted told the Dayton Daily News. She said the office learned of the pilot’s death through newspaper reporting.
Former Inspector General Mary Schiavo said Halye’s death “certainly gives the IG the right” to audit the program.
“Technically, they are auditing the FAA’s effectiveness of the drug abatement program,” she said, noting the Inspector General has subpoena power. “As part of that, they have the full power to go out and look at various aviation outlets to see how they are complying with regulations.”
“Beyond that, it’s going to depend on what they find,” said Schiavo, who served as inspector general from 1990 until 1996. “If they find things that look criminal, they will have to hand it over to the criminal division” of the Inspector General’s office.
“I would expect that they get some good results and findings that the FAA and airlines can use,” she said.
» SPECIAL REPORT: Spirit Airlines pilot’s likely overdose raises safety questions
The audit is not yet scheduled and could take more than a year to complete. Selected companies will be interviewed as part of the audit. Auditors will make on-site visits to the FAA’s offices in Washington, D.C. and FAA field offices in Fort Worth, Texas, Lawndale, Calif., and Miramar, Fla.
Paul Berry, a spokesman for Miramar, Fla.-based Spirit Airlines, defended the airline’s testing program.
“Today’s program meets all FAA requirements and in some cases exceeds those requirements,” Berry said. “If the audit results in new drug testing requirements by the FAA in the future, we will always take steps to ensure we remain compliant with those requirements.”
A spokesman for the FAA declined to comment.
Ashley Nunes, a regulatory analyst with the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics, called the Inspector General’s decision to review Halye’s death “a positive move for the American public.”
“The stories you have done that address drug and alcohol use in the aviation industry are concerning,” Nunes told the Daily News. “Does the FAA hold airlines accountable for the governmental standard that has been put forward, or does the FAA willfully look the other way?”
“That, to me, is one of the most important aspects of the OIG” audit, Nunes said.
Malcolm Brenner, a former NTSB psychologist who has investigated a fatal drug-related airline crash, said the audit is “a positive development for safety.”
“I think (the) industry may have become too satisfied with itself in the belief that drug use was not a significant issue among airline pilots and, with this overdose case and your paper’s investigative work, it seems like an appropriate time to reassess the status of testing and treatment programs for airline employees (to) reassure all of us that drugs of abuse are not a factor in this industry,” Brenner said.
For nearly four months since Halye’s death, the Daily News has investigated the circumstances behind the airman’s death, as well as the nation’s drug and alcohol testing regulations, which can allow pilots to go years without a screen.
In June, the newspaper revealed Spirit Airlines was found in non-compliance with federal drug and alcohol testing regulations in the months before Halye’s death, including an instance where a scheduled drug test of an employee never took place.
The newspaper uncovered a letter sent four days after Halye’s death from the FAA to Spirit executives. The letter said FAA “recently discovered” that an employee who was selected for testing in late 2015 was never tested. The employee’s name was redacted in the records FAA sent to the newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act.
The newspaper is appealing the redaction.
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