Any pilot taking off from a Belgian airport will in future be liable to submit to a blood test to detect drugs use, federal mobility minister François Bellot has confirmed. Pilots are already liable to be tested for alcohol use while on duty; the testing will in future include giving a blood sample to be tested for drugs in cases where there is a suspicion the pilot may be under the influence.
The measure applies across the EU, and is part of a package of measures drawn up in reaction to the Germanwings accident in 2015, when a plane travelling from Barcelona to Düsseldorf went down in France with 150 passengers on board. An inquiry into the accident is continuing, but there is evidence the co-pilot was severely depressed and may have been under the influence of medication.
The Belgian Cockpit Association, which represents airline pilots, complains the tests produce few results in comparison to the cost. “Studies have shown that around 0.3% will test positive,” Rudy Pont, chair of the safety committee, told the VRT. The money, he said, should instead be invested in peer support systems, in which pilots look out for each other, and take steps if one of their number appears to be out of line.
Meanwhile it was announced that staff carrying out critical functions on the ground at airports may also be subject to breath or blood tests to detect alcohol or drug use. The drugs being targetted in particular include opioids, cannabis and derivatives, cocaine and other stimulants, volatile substances like glue and nitrous oxide, sedatives, tranquillisers and hallucinogens.