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April 29, 2017

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Carriers hit out at order for breathalyzer tests on all Taiwanese pilots

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Carriers are bemoaning an "impossible" demand from the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA, 民航局), Taiwan's authority for aviation safety, saying even with their most advanced equipment they don't have the capacity to conduct on-duty alcohol tests on hundreds of pilots during peak travel times.

The CAA on Wednesday announced a new "zero tolerance" policy that requires all Taiwanese pilots to undergo pre-flight alcohol testing starting June.

Airlines whose pilots fail alcohol tests conducted before entering the cockpit will face fines up to NT$3 million (US$99,000).

The decision was made after two cases of local carriers sacking their pilots for failing a random pre-flight alcohol test within the past month.

The CAA lifted airlines' internal pilot alcohol test policy from their previous 50 percent inspection goal — already the strictest in the world — to 100 percent.

Critics slammed the CAA's measure as a major waste of resources as well as the exacting of a double standard, as foreign nationals are exempt from the tests.

Responding to criticisms of a double standard, CAA officials said Friday that they only have regulatory jurisdiction over domestic aircraft and personnel as mandated by international aviation authorities.

But if foreign pilots display abnormal behavior before flying, the CAA has the power to step in and conduct alcohol tests, officials added.

Clark Lin (林俊良), director of the CAA's Flight Standards Division, said airlines are currently only permitted to use government-certified equipment to conduct breathalyzer tests, after which results need to printed and signed by both the company and the pilot — the entire process takes 2 to 3 minutes per pilot, which can be extremely costly during busy travel times.

The CAA said carriers can propose feasible ways to implement the "100 percent alcohol test policy" until May 10, highlighting examples such as purchasing other equipment from overseas.

Too Drunk to Fly?

Taiwan is experiencing a renewed vigilance in cracking down on pilots under the influence of alcohol, after Taiwanese carriers Far Eastern Air Transport (FAT, 遠東航空) and China Airlines (CAL, 華航) reported incidents in which their pilots were tested to have alcohol concentration levels higher than the legal limit.

Only three such cases have been reported in the past 15 years, including the two recent incidents, said the CAA.

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