Illicit drug use was relatively uncommon among the study
population, increasing from 2.4 percent of pilots who
died in accidents in the 1990s to around 4 percent by
2012, largely due to increasing marijuana use.
March 30, 1983, Gates Learjet 25, registration N51CA was
on a night check courier flight. During arrival, the
indicated airspeed was well above the legal limit of 250
knots for flight below 10,000 ft. Runway 4R was selected
for landing after the crew were advised that their
original choice (runway 11) was noise sensitive. They
were advised not to descend below 2000 ft until on final
The turn to final was completed about 1 mile from the
runway at an altitude of approximately 700 ft. A steep
final approach was flown with an estimated 1000 fpm rate
of descent. On landing, the aircraft bounced,
banked/turned to the right, then it hit the ground. Both
pilots were killed. An exam of the wreckage revealed the
aircraft was configured with the gear extended, the
flaps down 20 degrees and the spoilers retracted.
evidence of a preimpact part failure or malfunction was
found. Toxicology checks showed that both pilots had
used or been exposed to marijuana and had co2 in their
blood from smoking; use of medication (phenylpropanolamine)
by copilot. Evidence of possible fatigue/stress to both.
Although this flight was not a general aviation flight
the NTSB did studied this case because of drug use by
addition to the safety recommendations, the NTSB issued
a safety alert urging pilots to consult medical
professionals about the potentially impairing effects of
any drug that they are taking, carefully read medication
dosing instructions, and to refrain from flying if they
feel impaired in any way.
The study included 6 safety recommendations, all related
to gathering better information about impairment in
transportation or urging better dissemination of
information on potentially impairing drugs to pilots and
Develop, publicize, and periodically update information
to educate pilots about the
potentially impairing drugs identified in your
toxicology test results of fatally injured pilots, and
make pilots aware of less impairing alternative drugs if
they are available.
Require pilots who are exempt from medical certification
requirements to periodically report to you their status
as an active pilot and to provide a summary of recent
Develop and distribute a clear policy regarding any
marijuana use by airmen
regardless of the type of flight operation.
Conduct a study to assess the prevalence of over the
counter, prescription, and illicit drug use among flying
pilots not involved in accidents, and compare those
results with findings from pilots who have died from
aviation accidents to assess the safety risks of using
those drugs while flying.
To the 50 states, the District of
Columbia, and the
of Puerto Rico:
Include in all state guidelines regarding prescribing
controlled substances for pain a
recommendation that health care providers discuss with
patients the effect their medical condition and
medication use may have on their ability to safely
operate a vehicle in any mode of transportation.
6. Use existing newsletters or other routine forms
of communication with licensed health care providers
and pharmacists to highlight the importance of
routinely discussing with patients the effect their
diagnosed medical conditions or recommended drugs
may have on their ability to safely operate a
vehicle in any mode of transportation.
Please keep in mind that the focus of this report is
on impairment type drugs not illicit drugs. In this
case the NTSB refers to impairment type drugs as the
drugs you would buy over the counter such as pain
relieving medication, etc. Illicit drugs would be
considered drugs bought on the street such as
hallucinogens, cannabis, opiates, etc. Pilots need
to be mindful that taking over-the-counter
medication or prescription medication may, has the
potential to impair performance and your ability to
safely pilot an aircraft.