David Learmount/LONDON

Random alcohol and drugs testing for British Airways pilots could be introduced "early next year", the airline says. BA is taking the action voluntarily in advance of anticipated UK legislation, and claims that it will be the first carrier in Europe to adopt the measure.

The USA introduced compulsory random drink and drugs tests for pilots four years ago. There are already defined blood alcohol level limits under European Joint Aviation Requirements - Operations (JAR Ops), but random testing is not compulsory in Europe.

The British Airline Pilots Association says it will support "properly thought out and agreed measures to address alcohol and drugs issues in our industry". BA and BALPA say that they are setting up a joint working group to define acceptable practices for effective testing.

The two sides are working with the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to do this. It is difficult to see how the defined levels could be allowed to vary from JAR Ops, which states that the maximum acceptable level of alcohol in a pilot's blood while on duty is 20mg per 100ml of blood. In practice this level is hardly more than that naturally found in the human body, which means that any alcohol consumed must have been completely metabolised by the duty period. The CAA says that illegal drugs are, by definition, unacceptable at any level.

Since 1991 the CAA has been lobbying the government to provide definitive laws about alcohol use for pilots. At present the only rule is that pilots should not fly while intoxicated, with a recommendation that they should not drink 8h before duty. Following a recent UK television programme which showed BA pilots allegedly drinking less than 8h before flying, the UK Government has promised legislation, but no timetable has been set.

The 8h "dry" period before duty is common in aviation regulations. BA's existing company requirements additionally state that drinking in the 24h period before duty should be "moderate".

Source: Flight International