AOPA has said "thanks, but no thanks" to the FAA for the charity sightseeing flight drug testing exemption granted the association February 2.
"We appreciate the FAA's effort, but what we got is nothing like what we asked for," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "The FAA gave us many more rules and procedures than pilots could possibly comply with."
The issue started last year after the FAA decided pilots who "charge" for sightseeing flights during charity or community airport fundraising events "must assure that all safety-sensitive persons be on an FAA-approved anti-drug and alcohol misuse program."
AOPA petitioned for a blanket exemption for AOPA members to allow them to help their local communities and promote general aviation without having to implement expensive drug testing programs.
"It was our intention that we would be dealing only with our pilot-members who would participate in such events," said Boyer. "We have a high degree of confidence that AOPA members understand and comply with the regulations, specifically those concerning drug and alcohol use."
However, the exemption that the FAA actually granted would require "event sponsors" to brief pilots on drug-free operations, review pilot logbooks, and then report to AOPA all of the pilots who participated in the charity event.
Most sponsors wouldn't be AOPA members or aviation-related organizations. Even so, AOPA would be required to use sponsor-provided information to give the FAA an annual report that would include the name, address, and certificate number of every pilot who had participated in a charity or community fundraising sightseeing flight.
"No disrespect, but what does the local church or charity know about pilot logbooks," asked Boyer, "and how could AOPA possibly be responsible for them?"
AOPA told the FAA it would decline to implement the association's drug-testing exemption and asked the FAA to continue granting exemptions on a case-by-case basis "until we can work with the FAA to provide a more workable exemption for our members."
In fact, the FAA did implement an expedited system for individual exemptions to the drug testing policy following a direct appeal from AOPA President Boyer to FAA Administrator Jane Garvey last March. That system is working well.
(Information on how to obtain an expedited exemption is available to AOPA members through AOPA's toll-free Pilot Information Center at 800/USA-AOPA. Any member who encounters difficulty obtaining an exemption should contact AOPA.)
AOPA and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) worked together to respond to their respective drug testing exemptions. EAA has declined to implement its exemption as well.
A copy of AOPA's response to the FAA is available on AOPA Online.
The 355,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, based outside Washington, D.C., represents the interests of general aviation. More than one half the nation's pilots are AOPA members.
March 8, 2000