Preventing Performance Impairment
The use of recreational drugs, alcohol, and other performance impairing substances can have detrimental effects on aviation safety. This is because such substances deter a pilot’s, engineer’s, or any other person’s ability to think and act, process information quickly and efficiently, and respond to situations as needed. Performance impairing substances can even cause fatal accidents. However, the influence of performance impairing substances on aviation safety can be stopped using various aviation responses. This essay describes the detrimental effects of recreational drugs, alcohol, and other performance impairing substance in aviation and other transport industries. It also describes how performance impairing substances could and have caused accidents. It also recommends legislative responses that can be used to stop the influence of performance impairing substances on aviation safety.
Drugs and performance impairing substances can be classified according to their legal status and effect on the central nervous systems. Legal drugs are those whose availability, quality and price are controlled by laws and regulations. An example of a legal drug is alcohol. Illegal drugs and substances are those that are not controlled by laws and regulations. Examples of illegal drugs include cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy. Drugs can also be classified according to how they affect the central nervous system. There are three main types of drugs that affect the central nervous system: depressants, stimulants, and hallucinogens. Depressants are those that slow down the function of the central nervous system and they affect concentration and coordination. Stimulants are those that speed up the central nervous system and they increase heart rate, body temperature and heart rate. Hallucinogens are those that affect perception, and users tend to see or hear things that do not really exist (Civil Aviation Safety Authority Australia (CASA), 2013).
Abuse of recreational drugs, alcohol, and other performance impairing drugs are estimated to generate huge economic and social costs internationally. It leads to over $140 billion in annual losses in the US while over $10 billion annual losses in Australia across the aviation industry sectors. As early as 1991, the direct cost of alcohol and drug abuse to the Australian aviation industry was $3.7 billion per annum. Drugs and other performance impairing substances that are most commonly used in Australia include alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, and other prescribed medications. Other commonly used substances include cannabis, heroin, ecstasy, and methamphetamines(CASA, 2013).
Flying is a complex and challenging activity that requires high levels of cognitive skills. In a safety-critical environment such as the aviation and transport industry, optimal performance is needed for safe operation and safe practices. Safe performance requires high levels of concentration, coordination and psychomotor skills. Use of drugs and other similar substances affects concentration, coordination, and other cognitive skills, impacting how individuals perform their tasks (Airservices, 2015).
Drugs and other performance-impairing substances can have detrimental effects on the aviation industry. These substances could lead to accidents resulting in injury or even death, lost employee work time, reduced productivity, loss of skills, damage to tools and equipment, and increased insurance costs. The use of drugs could also lead to absenteeism costs in lost production, disruption of operations, and even covering for lost employee work time. The use of drugs can lead to staff turnover costs in terms of dismissal or early retirement, replacement of employees, loss of investment in employees and loss of skills and experience (CASA, 2013).
There have been various accident/incident reports where performance impairing substances were involved. One of the incident reports is the Collision with terrain involving Cessna 172, VH-WLF, 10 km west of Wentworth Airport, NSW on 28 May 2012. On 28 May 2012, the pilot of a Cessna Aircraft Company 172 aircraft departed the Wentworth airport for a private flight. A property owner at the airport saw the aircraft depart, but he notified the police the next day when the aircraft did not return. An extensive visual search then ensued involving multiple aircrafts. In the evening of 30 may 2012, a search helicopter sighted the aircraft wreckage, and upon landing, they realized that the pilot had received fatal injuries. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) found out that the aircraft collided with terrain at high speed shortly after departure from Wentworth airport. ATSB did not find any evidence of in-flight failure in the airframe structure or the flight control system. The engine also appeared to have produced significant power at impact. The ATSB concluded that the pilot input was probably applied as a result of incapacitation of the pilot. The pilot’s use of performance impairing substances could have caused the incapacitation, which led to the fatal accident (ATSB, 2012).
Another incident report that is related to drugs and substance abuse is the Bell Helicopter Co 47G-4A, VH-MTX. The Bell 47G-4A turbine-powered helicopter pilot was conducting a lift-off to the hover when the helicopter landed on its right side. The weather conditions reported at the time was little or no wind, warm and humid, and some cloud clearing. The helicopter was substantially damaged and the pilot who occupied the left seat was fatally injured while the right seated passenger sustained just minor injuries. The pilot had accumulated about 8,293 hours of flying experience and his last flight prior to the accident was 9 days previously in a Bell Helicopter 206 type. He had not previously flown a turbine powered 47G helicopter. However, the pilot had flown 10 aircraft types in the preceding 12 months, including a mix of European and North America types, single-engine and multiple engine types, and a mix of turbine and piston engine types. The aviation medical certificate of the pilot was valid, but the presence of any substance that might have influenced his performance was not ruled out. The use of drugs and substance might have influenced his performance while he was conducting the lift-off to the hover, causing the fatal accident (ATSB, 2012).
In order to stop the influence of performance impairing substances on aviation safety, various legislative responses are necessary. Proper legislations have to be put in place regarding the use of drugs, alcohol, and other performance impairment drugs. Testing of inappropriate drug and substance use should be a key component of such a legislative response. Drug and alcohol testing can be made mandatory for all aviation personnel and this could demonstrate a range of useful impacts including quantifying usage, deterring usage, removing substance users from safety-sensitive roles, assessing the impact of incidents or accidents, identifying personnel who use these substances and monitoring personnel on return to duty from drug-related rehabilitation programs. There should be legislation on the minimum standard of drug and alcohol testing. The regulation of the legislation should be managed and controlled by the appropriate law enforcement agencies (Australian Government Common Law, 2011).
Another legislative response should be commitment to educating and training aviation industry personnel on the risks of inappropriate drugs and substance abuse, treatment options, rehabilitation measures, and recertification process. Such training and education should be made mandatory to ensure that all aviation personnel are well aware of the risks of drug and alcohol use when they perform their roles. The relevant authorities’ education and training can be a shared responsibility, including Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), ATSB, specialist health agencies, and other industry players.
There should also be legislation that dictates stiffer penalties for the aviation personnel that will be found using drugs, alcohol, and other performance impairment substances while performing their roles. The aviation industry managers, safety-sensitive personnel and other personnel should also be able to demonstrate commitment to effective policies that prevent drug use. Stiffer penalties should be taken against industry players who do not comply with the drug and substance policies. Doing this will ensure that aviation personnel strictly follow the policies, stay away from drug and alcohol use, and ensure the industry’s safety (Australian Government Common Law, 2011).
In conclusion, the use of drugs, alcohol, and other performance-impairing substances could have detrimental effects on aviation safety. There have been significant accidents and incidents in the aviation industry that involve drug and substance abuse. Such accidents have had an adverse effect on the industry. In order to address this issue, proper legislation should be put in place regarding drug and substance testing, education and training of aviation personnel on the risk of drug and substance use, and stricter penalties for those who are found to use the substances while performing their duties.