A federal appeals court has ruled Pan Am Express had the right to fire a pilot for refusing to take a drug test, despite a Rhode Island law barring such action.

The ruling Friday by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision that federal safety regulations take precedence over state laws. It was the first test of a 1987 Rhode Island law forcing companies to provide evidence of drug use before requiring an employee to take a drug test.In an opinion written by Judge Bruce M. Selya the panel wrote, "In this case, all flight plans lead to Washington. It is hard to imagine an area of regulation that is more closely related to air safety than pilot qualification."

Pan Am ordered pilot Timothy French to submit a urine sample in September 1987 after Warwick, R.I., police told airline officials they had an anonymous tip French had smoked marijuana while off duty.