The number of pilots testing positive for one or more drugs increased in 2015 over the prior five years, though federal officials said the overall number of airline employees testing positive is low.
The newsroom’s reporting comes following the March 16 death of Spirit Airlines pilot Brian Halye, who is suspected of overdosing on fentanyl, according to the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office. He and wife Courtney Halye were found dead in their bedroom by their children.
Federal Aviation Administration data show 38 pilots tested positive for one or more drugs in 2015, the most recent year available. The agency did not immediately release the number of total pilots tested, but provided positive test numbers for the latest six years available:
- 2010: 23 verified positive drug tests
- 2011: 28 verified positive drug tests
- 2012: 25 verified positive drug tests
- 2013: 24 verified positive drug tests
- 2014: 27 verified positive drug tests
- 2015: 38 verified positive drug tests
The tests screen for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, phencyclidine (PCP), and amphetamines.
Federal regulations require carriers to test 25 percent of “safety sensitive” employees in a given year.
In 2015, more than 1,500 drug tests were verified positive out of more than 218,000 tests on safety sensitive employees, which include pilots, mechanics, flight instructors, flight attendants, aircraft dispatchers, ground security coordinators, non-TSA aviation screeners, and non-FAA/military air traffic controllers.
“Overall, the number of positive tests is low considering the number of tests performed each year,” said Elizabeth Cory, an FAA spokeswoman.
A 2014 study from the National Transportation Safety Board examined trends in drug use by fatally injured pilots in commercial and general aviation between 1990 and 2012. None of the pilots in the study flying commercial passenger air carrier operations had toxicology findings indicating use of illicit drugs.
Spirit Airlines has not said if the company tested Halye in the nine years he was employed at the ultra-low fare carrier, though the company said it followed federal regulations.