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United Airlines faces FAA fine over drug testing

The FAA proposes a fine of $584,375 against United after the airline allegedly transferred 13 employees to safety-sensitive positions before receiving the results of their drug and alcohol tests.

June 18, 2011|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • A United Airlines plane takes off from San Francisco International Airport in April. The FAA has accused the airline of failing to properly follow drug-testing procedures for its employees.
A United Airlines plane takes off from San Francisco International Airport… (Paul Sakuma, Associated…)

Federal air safety regulators have proposed fining United Airlines $584,375 for allegedly failing to properly perform drug tests on workers in safety-sensitive areas.

The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday accused the airline of transferring 13 employees to safety-sensitive positions before it received the results of their drug and alcohol tests.

The violations took place throughout the airline and included workers on the flight crew, maintenance and service teams, FAA spokesman Paul Turk said. United has 30 days to respond to the FAA's penalty proposal.

The FAA also cited United for allegedly failing to use a scientifically valid method to make sure that each member of the airline's flight crew had an equal chance of being selected for a random drug and alcohol test, Turk said. The agency said it had warned United twice in the past about the problems with the testing procedure.

"Drug testing is both a critical and a required safety measure that all operators must follow," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said in a statement.

In response to the fine, United Airlines issued a statement saying, "We are reviewing the letter and will cooperate fully with the FAA to resolve their concerns."

Turk said the penalty was substantial but not among the highest issued by the agency. In 2009, for example, the FAA fined US Airways $5.4 million for operating several aircraft without performing required inspections and maintenance.

United, which served about 54 million passengers in 2010, ranks as the fourth-largest airline in the country. Last October, its parent company, UAL Corp., merged with Continental Airlines Inc. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Continental served about 43 million passengers last year, ranking sixth in the country.

The two airlines are now part of Chicago-based United Continental Holdings Inc. but continue to operate as separate airlines. The airlines hope to get a single operating certificate from the FAA by the end of the year to complete the merger.

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