A crew member of Bhutan Airlines and a Drukair technician tested positive for banned drugs during the third test on August 2.

Information and communications minister DN Dhungyel revealed this yesterday at the meet the press session. He said that Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) and Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) had conducted the tests randomly in an effort to ensure airline safety.

In the first joint test, a pilot and a female flight attendant of Drukair and a male flight attendant of Bhutan Airlines tested positive for controlled drugs on June 28 and 29.

A helicopter pilot and a Drukair crew member tested positive during the second such test on July 25 and 26.

The two pilots, one each of Drukair and Royal Bhutan Helicopter Service (RBHS), were retested and found clean. The minister said they will resume their duty today.

The minister said that other individuals have been grounded and disallowed from flying temporarily.

As the testing was a new initiative such situations were not even mentioned in the Drukair’s service manual. So there was no penalty prescribed in its service manual that was drafted in compliance with the Civil Aviation Act 2000 which makes no mention of handling such cases.

The airline has drafted a new service manual based on the Civil Aviation Act 2016. However, it needs to be vetted by the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources.

Drukair’s employees who tested positive were given only their basic salary. The pilot’s basic salary was about Nu 30,000 but he earns about Nu 370,000 as allowances.

“So they have been deprived of a large chunk of their salary,” the minister said. “This is a big deterrent measure.”

Bhutan Airlines is yet to decide on the course of action.

“As the airline’s rules are quite stringent on such matters, the employees even face chances of termination,” the minister said.

The BCAA and BNCA will carry scheduled bi-annual tests, and surprise checks hereafter.

“If found positive, an employee will be grounded and will be given time to detoxify or come clean the first time,” the minister said. Repeat offenders will lose their license and be terminated.

The minister said that the objective of such tests is to deter employees from abusing drugs.

“For 100 percent safety of the airlines, such tests are important and the agencies will continue with the tests so that the employees don’t abuse such substances,” the minister said. We’ve to take it seriously because lives will be  at stake.”

The random drug tests have covered all employees of the two airlines and the RBHS, the minister said.

The minister said similar tests will be conducted with all public transport drivers.

“We’ve to conduct surprise and frequent tests on them too as many lives travelling in taxis and buses depend on them,” Lyonpo DN Dhungyel said.

Tshering Palden