The Act strengthens the management of drug and alcohol-related risks in the commercial aviation sector. It introduces drug and alcohol management plans (DAMPs) for certain companies and allows the CAA Director to conduct drug and alcohol testing.

What the Act does

The Civil Aviation Act 2023 sets up a consistent system for testing drug and alcohol use in the aviation sector. This includes:

  • Introducing drug and alcohol management plans (DAMPs), which involve random testing for workers doing safety-sensitive activities.
  • Setting requirements for DAMP operators around what should be in their DAMPs, random testing and reporting to CAA.
  • Requiring new aviation rules to clarify who will be DAMP operators.
  • Consequences if a test is not negative, tampering is suspected, or a worker refuses to be tested.
  • Giving the CAA the authority to carry out unannounced testing ('Director testing').

Decisions required to implement the new Act provisions

The Act implementation programme involves all the work required to develop a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and draft Advisory Circular for 2024. Rules and guidance are required to:

  • Define which certified aviation companies will be DAMP operators.
  • Provide clarity on what are safety-sensitive activities.
  • Establish reporting requirements.
  • Develop a process for approving drug and alcohol management plans.

There are standards from NZQA for collecting urine and oral fluid samples and for screening these samples to check for drugs. Additionally, AS/NZ Standards cover various processes like collecting, handling, transporting (if further laboratory testing is needed), laboratory testing itself, disposal, and safety measures.

The CAA has also created guidance to be included in a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM), which explains:

  • Which commercial operators need to be involved in the new drug and alcohol management plan regime, and what their responsibilities will be.
  • What substances, besides alcohol, should be tested – using the existing Australian/New Zealand standards for urine and saliva testing.
  • How often and in what form random testing should be carried out.
  • The Act requirements if a test shows the presence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Use of terms such as 'non-negative' test – meaning anything other than a negative test.

What is operator random testing?

Random testing is testing of a safety-sensitive worker in a way that's not predictable or discriminatory. It's done without giving any advance notice. A company (the DAMP operator), or their agent, would conduct the random testing.

Safety-sensitive activity is activity by a person that could seriously impact the health or safety of anyone on an aircraft. Guidance will help clarify the Act definition. For example, activities like working as part of an aircraft crew, would fall under this definition.

How to test and the response plan

The specific drugs to be tested for, permitted levels, and how the testing is done will be outlined by the DAMP operators in their DAMPs. The DAMPs also need to include a response plan which covers what will happen if a worker tests non-negative (for example, sending them home, doing follow-up testing, and deciding when it's safe for them to return to work).

Industry impact

Our aim at the CAA is to create processes that reduce the administrative workload (and costs) for both the aviation industry and us. Here's how we plan to do it:

  • We will offer sample plans and guidance to help them get started.
  • Apply the experience of companies that already conduct drug and alcohol testing.
  • Use existing reporting systems rather than creating new ones.
  • Pay special attention to the needs of small and remote operators.
  • Create a template and guidance for the required plans, with the aim that approvals can be desk based.

Individuals who hold licences won't be DAMP operators themselves. However, if a contractor is hired to work for a company that is a DAMP Operator, they may be considered 'safety-sensitive workers'.

Director testing

The Act allows the Director of the CAA to carry out unannounced drug and alcohol testing (Director testing).

Director testing will be an important element in maintaining oversight of the DAMP system. It will not commence until operator drug and alcohol plans are in place – generally after 5 April 2027.

When the CAA conducts Director testing, it will follow the same scope and standards outlined in the operator's DAMP.

The CAA will test for the same drugs and substances as operators specify in their DAMPs. Where there is a non-negative test result, the responsibility would then shift to the operator who would follow the response plan they had outlined in their DAMP.


Up to Act Commencement - 5 April 2025

  • Rules - The development of new rules to give effect to the Act  
  • Public consultation – During 2024 (currently scheduled for late March, early April), the CAA will consult the sector on the rules and associated draft Advisory Circulars as part of a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM)
  • Companies determine whether they will be DAMP operators or not.

Transition period from 5 April 2025 to 5 April 2027

The Act has a built-in transition period for the development of DAMPs from 5 April 2025 to 5 April 2027.

During the transition period:

  • Companies develop or complete their DAMPs and submit them to the CAA for approval. This process will be staggered to allow the submission and approval processes to be undertaken smoothly.
  • Director testing operational decisions – The CAA will make the necessary decisions to enable Director testing to be implemented from 5 April 2027.

5 April 2027 onwards – DAMP regime in place

The Act’s drug and alcohol provisions will be in place from 5 April 2027.  This will include:

  • Operator random testing – DAMP operators will undertake random testing of workers involved in safety-sensitive activities as a normal part of their operations and as set out in their DAMPs.
  • The provisions in the Act for notifying CAA and responding to non-negatives tests apply.
  • New applicants for certification who meet the conditions of being a DAMP operator will be required to include a drug and alcohol management plan in their expositions.

Next steps (as at March 2024)

Now that the draft rules and associated guidance (in an Advisory Circular) are ready for public consultation, the CAA’s next steps are to:

  • Commence the formal process of seeking feedback through a Notice of Proposed Rule Making - currently scheduled to commence in late March and proceed through April 2024. The NPRM will include:
    • Draft Rules;
    • Draft Transport Instrument;
    • Guidance in an Advisory Circular; and
    • Draft DAMP template.
  • Interact with industry participants.
  • Review feedback, refine the draft NPRM, Rules, Advisory Circular, and template.
  • Work with the Ministry of Transport to get the Minister’s approval.