The NTSB Board has reaffirmed its precedent that “a single incident of substance abuse is sufficient to establish disqualification for medical certification”. In Administrator v. Schroederthe airman, an ATP rated pilot employed by Delta, showed up for a flight the day after Christmas. While being processed through the security checkpoint, two TSA employees noticed a strong smell of alcohol. The airman was subsequently detained and testing indicated a blood alcohol level in excess of the .04 allowed by FAR 91.17(a)(4).
The ALJ upheld the FAA’s emergency revocation of the airman’s ATP and First Class medical certificates. The NTSB Board affirmed, finding that the airman’s alcohol consumption on Christmas and his condition when he showed up for work the next day, coupled with Board precedent, amply supported the ALJ’s decision.
What makes this case notable is the concurring statement by Board Member Hersman. Although she agrees with the outcome of the case, she makes it a point to voice her concern with the use of a bright line test where a single instance of alcohol abuse is used as a basis for “de facto” denial or revocation of a medical certificate. She urges both the FAA and the Board to give careful consideration to the factual and medical evidence relevant to this issue.
Member Hersman’s final comment suggests that it appears that the FAA is not exercising any discretion when it “automatically” seeks revocation of an airman’s medical certificate in connection with a violation of FAR 91.17. She suggests that if this is in fact the FAA’s position, contrary to the current regulations which require the exercise of discretionary medical judgment, that the FAA should change the regulations to accurately reflect the standards to which airman will be held accountable.
In my opinion, a case by case approach using reasonable medical judgment and discretion is clearly more appropriate than the “de facto” approach which is becoming more common. This approach does not excuse the exercise of poor judgment as exhibited in this case. Revocation of the airman’s ATP certificate was clearly appropriate. However, to automatically deny or revoke a medical certificate for this violation (although perhaps appropriate in many situations) is inconsistent with the existing regulations and it relieves the FAA of the discretionary medical judgment it is required to exercise.
Hopefully the FAA and the Board will take Member Hersman’s statements to heart and reevaluate the current enforcement approach in relation to alcohol use and medical certification.