July 14, 2011 8:38AM

Overregulation: The View From a Helicopter Cockpit

Philip Greenspun discovers that an FAA inspector is happy to march a little helicopter charter outfit run by a single owner/​pilot through the same paperwork slog that a much busier operation would face:

Finally, the FAA inspector looked at my random drug testing program to make sure that everything was in place. I’m subject to the same drug testing requirements as United Airlines. I am the drug testing coordinator for our company, so I am responsible for scheduling drug tests and surprising employees when it is their turn to be tested. As it happens, I’m also the only “safety‐​sensitive employee” subject to drug testing, so basically I’m responsible for periodically surprising myself with a random drug test. As a supervisor, I need to take training so that I can recognize when an employee is on drugs. But I’m also the only employee, so really this is training so that I can figure out if I myself am on drugs. As an employee, I need to take a second training course so that I learn about all of the ways that my employer might surprise me with a random drug test and find out about drug use. But I’m also the employer so really I’m learning about how I might trap myself. … Five minutes after the FAA inspector left, I received a phone call. “I’m from the FAA and we’d like to schedule an audit of your drug testing program.”

Things proceed to get crazier from there. And none of the craziness is likely to change so long as being worried about regulatory overkill is construed in Washington as being Against Air (or Food or Toy or Drug) Safety.