Similar to drug testing requirements, alcohol testing rules are contained in an appendix to Part 121, Appendix J. These rules are also intended to prevent accidents caused by the misuse of alcohol. Domestic repair stations are required to perform post-accident, random and reasonable suspicion alcohol testing of safety-sensitive employees. (They may perform, but are not required, to perform pre-employment alcohol testing.) FAA-certificated foreign repair stations are not required to perform any alcohol testing of safety-sensitive employees. Similar to the drug testing exemptions contained in Appendix I, Appendix J provides “[n]o covered employee shall be tested for alcohol misuse while located outside the territory of the United States.” In addition, Appendix J states “the provisions of this appendix shall not apply to any person who performs a safety-sensitive function by contract for an employer outside the territory of the United States.” (As with drug-testing requirements, and although rare, it is true that domestic repair station employees or contractors located outside the United States would also not be subject to alcohol testing.)
In sum, maintenance performed on air carrier aircraft by domestic repair stations is performed by employees subject to alcohol testing whereas that same work performed by FAA-certificated foreign repair stations is not.
Employee background checks
Unlike the drug-testing requirements which are under the FAA’s purview, employee background checks fall under the jurisdiction of the TSA. Title 49 of the U.S. Code Section 44936 requires background checks of, among others, employees with access to air carrier aircraft or secured areas of U.S. airports. This covers employees who perform maintenance on air carrier aircraft. The background check must cover the previous 10 years and include a criminal history record check and a check of national and international law enforcement databases.
The law not only requires a 10-year background check but it also prohibits, among others, an air carrier from contracting with anyone who has not had a 10-year background check or has been found guilty (or not guilty by reason of insanity) of a long list of crimes, including murder, rape, kidnapping, and felonies involving threats of harm, illegal drug importation, fraud, and theft.
These rules apply to domestic employees but not foreign employees. Therefore, domestic repair station employees would be subject to the 10-year background check and employment restrictions where FAA-certificated foreign repair stations would not.
In my opinion, the drug and alcohol testing rules were implemented to improve safety by minimizing the risk that drug-addled or intoxicated aviation workers would cause an accident. Similarly, the background check and employment restriction rules were enacted to keep undesirables away from air carrier aircraft. The disparate application of these rules has made a mockery of them.
It makes no sense to me that a U.S. airline having maintenance performed at an FAA-certificated repair station in Buffalo is subject to safety and security rules that that same airline having that same maintenance performed 20 miles north in Canada is not subject to — just because the FAA-certificated repair station in Canada would be considered a “foreign” repair station by virtue of its location abroad.
Given the cost of drug and alcohol testing and background screening, the FAA and TSA are flying work away from the United States and decreasing the safety and security of the traveling public. For these reasons, I support legislation which would make the rules the same for work performed by FAA-certificated repair stations regardless of where they’re located.
John Goglia has 30 years experience in the aviation industry. He was the first NTSB board member to hold an FAA aircraft mechanic’s certificate. Currently he is senior vice president for aviation operations and safety programs for consulting firm JDA Aviation Technology Solutions.