WASHINGTON — Donald Engen, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, said Sunday that all FAA employees who fly, control or work on airliners will be tested for drugs when they are hired, and again when they take their annual physical examinations.
"I have had a (testing) plan in being for the last year and a half," Engen said on ABC television's "This Week With David Brinkley."
"I didn't have the money earlier this year; I do now. And we are implementing the plan this year."
Although the agency has not previously had such a uniform testing program, Engen said "where we find drug users through peers, we take care of that."
He assured an interviewer that "we don't have a lot of drug users in the FAA."
Engen said he felt "honor bound to ensure that we will not have anyone using drugs in the FAA," an arm of the Transportation Department that sets and enforces safety standards and operates air traffic controls for U.S. civil aviation.
Question of Safety Raised
The question of safety was raised only briefly during the interview, which took place hours before the collision of an Aeromexico jet and a private plane over Cerritos that killed at least 70 people Sunday morning.
Asked about heavy fines for repeated violations of maintenance regulations that the FAA has assessed in recent months against American and Eastern airlines and Pan American World Airways, Engen said his questioner "can be satisfied we're doing our job."
"Every airline is dedicated not to have an accident," Engen continued. "There are federal air regulations which must be adhered to. Sometimes . . . the corporations feel that they're very minute in detail. But that's part of safety."
The FAA is empowered to "shut down an airline" by recalling the operating certificate issued by the government. And he added: "If any air carrier doesn't adhere to the federal air regulations, we have that authority. I would exercise it."
Need for More Airports
The FAA administrator rejected suggestions that a shortage of FAA air traffic controllers was responsible for tie-ups in and long delays at major airports. Engen said there is a need for more airports in areas of heavy air traffic, and he observed that the typical air traffic problem "generates at the airport at the other end" and is "not a matter of the number of air traffic controllers." The number of controllers is now more than 1,000 below the 16,000 who were on the roster when their union went on strike in 1981. President Reagan fired 11,400 strikers, and has refused to rehire them.
"Let me assure you," Engen said, "that we do indeed have enough air traffic controllers out there to safely guide the nation's air system." Asked how the FAA expects to finance services for an expanding airline industry, Engen said he believed that there was enough money for such projects in a trust fund that is financed by an 8% tax on airline tickets.
The fund now holds "roughly $7 billion," he said, of which $4 billion has been obligated, leaving $3 billion for "new radars . . .computers . . . terminal Doppler weather radar."