India Wants To Start Drug Testing Flight Crew For Illegal Substances

India is proposing its first drug testing protocol for flight crews. In a draft proposal, regulators will require airlines to test randomly test 5% of their crew every year for illegal drugs. Crew members failing any of these drug tests will see their licenses suspended for three years and canceled upon repeat violation.

Indian Airlines
The DGCA will mandate drug tests for airline and air navigation employees. Photo: Getty Images

Sniff out

Under a draft proposal, India’s aviation regulator, the DGCA, is looking to institute mandatory drug tests for all pilots, cabin crew, air traffic controllers, and other key flight operation personnel. According to Mint, the DGCA will require 5% of employees of the organization to be drug tested every year.

Positive test results from the testing must be sent to the regulator with 24 hours of reporting. If a pilot tests positive for any of the eight or more psychoactive drugs, they will immediately be pulled from active duty. Once a confirmatory test confirms or refutes the original result, the DGCA will take action against the employee.

Air India Crew
India has long had one of the strictest alcohol testing policies but no mandate for drugs until now. Photo: Getty Images

A first-time violation will see the concerned personnel go into rehabilitation to avoid a similar lapse in the future. Failure to submit to a confirmatory test will see the personnel lose their aviation license for three years, and any separate failed subsequent tests will result in a complete cancelation of their license. The regulation will also require pre-employment drug tests.

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Currently, the policy is under review and in discussion with key stakeholders like airlines and crews. The drug testing drafts will apply to tens of thousands across the industry, including flight attendants, pilots, air traffic controllers, maintenance engineers, trainees, examining staff, instructors, and certifying staff. We will know the final details of the policy in 30 days, following the review completion.

So how does this stack up against other government’s rules? The FAA currently requires 25% of all airline/organization employees to be randomly drug tested in a year. This figure varies by the positivity rate in the year before and could be up to 50%. Meanwhile, Australia leaves it up to airlines to decide their drug testing rates.

Air India Headquarters Mumbai
When it comes to aviation safety, regulators have a strict, zero-tolerance policy around the globe. Photo: Getty Images

India’s rules would put it somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of testing requirements. Previously, the country had the strictest alcohol testing policy in the world, with pre-departure of arrival breathalyzers. While this rule has been eased due to the pandemic, the DGCA is eager to crack down on errant employees that could endanger safety.


Back in February 2020, the DGCA produced similar rules about drug testing for all frontline aviation personnel. According to the Economic Times, last year’s policy was more restrictive with a 10% employee yearly testing minimum, and the DGCA itself would set up laboratories at main airports.

However, the pandemic seems to have delayed the implementation of this plan. Instead, regulators have chosen to lower the number of tests and study the positive cases in total. For now, keep an eye out for the final policy details set to come in September.

What do you think about India’s new drug test policy? Let us know in the comments.