DISPELLING THE MYTH: 8 HOURS BOTTLE TO THROTTLE

The rules in respect to drug and alcohol management policies (DAMP), together with rules to facilitate CASA tests of safety sensitive aviation participants have now been in place for almost 10 years.

However, there remains much confusion about “DAMP” and how it affects pilots, particularly given that previously well-known rules (such as the“8 hour bottle to throttle” rule) still remain in force.

How does CASA “police” alcohol with pilots? What are the limits, how does CASA deal with those who fall afoul of random tests, and what must we remember about company-specific DAMP tests? 

CASA TESTS

A CASA drug or alcohol test follows a process outlined in the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations (CASR).  Only approved testers can test you if you are available to perform, or are performing a safety sensitive aviation activity (SSAA).  This term covers almost anything you are doing at an airport if you are assigned to duty and have arrived to perform that duty. It’s imperative you comply with the tester’s directions, however you can refuse a test is if the approved tester refuses to show you their identity card. You should always ask the purported tester for their ID, and if they are legitimate, ensure you comply with all their reasonable directions.

An important direction that is easy to miss in the confusion and stress that sometimes accompanies such unexpected tests, is a direction to remain in the tester’s presence.  The advice is simple – stay nearby to the tester, because failure to do so is a strict liability offence which carries with it a very strong likelihood of an infringement notice being issued, or worse.

The approved tester can ask for a breath sample for alcohol and a saliva sample for a drug test, not blood or urine.

DAMP TESTS

Only your company’s approved testing personnel (which includes contracted laboratory/testing companies) can conduct DAMP tests.  All operators’ drug and alcohol management plans (DAMPs) require post incident/accident DAMP testing. This is something which typically requires managerial responsibility and decision making before it can happen.  You should be clear about the fact that such approval to test has to be given before you submit to a DAMP test, but be guided by your own company’s DAMP, rather than general advice.

As with CASA tests, pilots should not leave test premises until the test has been conducted. 

HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?

It is beyond the scope of this article to analyse the science behind alcohol absorption or the half-lives of illicit and prescription drugs, and the factors that affect those matters.  

For legal purposes, for alcohol 0.02% is the maximum blood alcohol concentration permissible.  For cocaine, cannabis, opioids and amphetamines, the test result must be below the confirmatory target concentration set out in Australian/New Zealand Standard 4308:2006 for oral fluid testing.  

CAR 256(3) continues to control the timing of alcohol ingestion for safety sensitive personnel:

A person shall not act as, or perform any duties or functions preparatory to acting as, a member of the operating crew of an aircraft if the person has, during the period of 8 hours immediately preceding the departure of the aircraft consumed any alcoholic liquor. 

While of course common sense, it must be remembered that the following are still strict liability offences under CAR 256, and do not explicitly refer to any blood alcohol percentage or drug blood concentration level.  They therefore carry some ambiguity as to blood alcohol concentration levels in order to be enforced over a wide range of scenarios where a person acting as crew is impaired:

  • Entering an aircraft while “in a state of intoxication”;
  • Operate or “be carried” (for operating crew members) in an aircraft while being in a state where your capacity to act as a an operating crew member is impaired due to ingestion of any kind of medication or alcohol;
  • An operating crew member (whether “performing” duty or carried to perform duty) cannot consume alcohol on board;

The general advice of the AFAP is that one must not take any chances with borderline usage of alcohol up to the statutory 8 hours “immediately preceding the departure of the aircraft”.   You must instead be acutely aware that any level of intoxication or impairment could be enough to result in prosecution or other CASA disciplinary measures, in addition to the employment consequences  - whether or not it was 8, 10 or even 12 hours since drinking the night before signing on.  It is imperative that you know your body, your tolerances, and the implications of being wrong about either.

If you are concerned or curious as to whether you may have a problem with alcohol or another substance you can contact the AFAP’s confidential MAP service on 1 800 424 635 or through the AFAP website: www.afap.org.au.  

If you would like to know more, it is imperative you come along to an AFAP Accident & Incident Training course, where DAMP comprises a major portion of the day.

Other useful links to learn more about pilot wellbeing and alcohol consumption are:

Joseph Wheeler MRAeS is Aviation Legal Counsel for the AFAP, a member of both the IFALPA Legal and Professional & Government Affairs Committees, and the aerolegal and aeropolitical affairs columnist for The Australian.

This article was originally published in Air Pilot E1 2017


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