An investigation has been launched after two pilots were charged with being over the legal alcohol limit.

The two American men, who work for United Airlines, were allegedly under the influence of alcohol as they got ready to fly a Boeing 757 from Glasgow Airport to Newark Airport in New Jersey. Carlos Roberto Licona, 45, from Texas, and Paul Brady Grebenc, 35, from Mississippi, were arrested, causing the flight on Saturday, August 27 to be delayed.

The pilots have now been released on bail after a private hearing at Paisley Sheriff Court. They have been suspended from flying aircraft while an investigation is carried out by United Airlines and will appear in court again later this year.

Drug and alcohol tests are routinely carried out in the aviation industry to ensure the safety of the public. There are strict alcohol limits in place and pilots are allowed just nine micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, the legal limit for driving is 35 in England and Wales and 22 in Scotland.

Pilots are also not allowed to consume any alcohol for at least eight hours before they are due to fly an aircraft. And refusing or failing to appear to take a drug or alcohol test can lead to airline staff being suspended from their roles or facing other disciplinary actions.

Random testing common in aviation industry

Last year the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) carried out 12,480 random tests on pilots to check they were not over the alcohol limit. Out of these, only 10 people were found to be over the alcohol limit – this figure was 13 in 2014 and five in 2013.

Pilots are not the only staff in the aviation industry who are regularly tested for drugs and alcohol. Random tests are also given to flight attendants air traffic controllers and other employees including mechanics and those in safety-critical positions.

In the United States, roughly a quarter of staff in roles affecting safety will be given a drugs test at some point over a 12-month period, while one in 10 will be checked to see whether they have consumed too much alcohol. The failure rate is fairly low with just 0.5% of the drugs tests and 0.1% of the alcohol tests carried out by the FAA coming back positive.

AlphaBiolabs carries out aviation drug and alcohol testing, sending specialist teams to companies to collect samples from their staff. As well as random tests, we carry out testing as part of the recruitment process, during investigations into incidents and to monitor staff who are known to have had substance misuse issues in the past.

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