A Singapore Airlines pilot left an aircraft full of passengers with nowhere to go after he failed a random blood alcohol test. The flight, due to travel from Melbourne to Wellington on Saturday (15th September) was grounded and passengers left stranded until the following day.
During a random test of the Singapore Airlines pilot alcohol showed up in his blood stream in excess of the legal limit. The test was conducted by Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) just before flight SQ247 was about to depart.
According to a spokesperson, the Singapore Airlines pilot alcohol level was ‘higher than suitable’. The airline has suspended the pilot from all operations pending investigation. Subsequently, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) has launched an investigation into the situation. They say this is the only time in 10 years such a case has been reported to them. They said:
“CAAS views substance/alcohol abuse by pilots very seriously. It is an offence for any person, including a pilot, when acting as a member of the crew of an aircraft operating out of our airports or for Singapore-registered aircraft, anywhere it is operating, to be under the influence of alcohol,”
The pilot could be liable for a fine of up to S$100,000 and a jail sentence of up to five years.
Passengers say they were ‘lied to’
Understandably, numerous passengers took to social media to vent their frustrations at not being able to continue their journey. One passenger, Muteki Iikun, was particularly enraged as it meant he would miss seeing the All Blacks play in Wellington, after travelling from Japan to watch the match.
He said that passengers were ‘lied to’ about the situation by Singapore Airlines crew, and that they were told the pilot was ‘under the weather’. Upon further pressing, Muteki was told that the pilot had ‘eaten something bad’.
However, some were more pragmatic about the situation, feeling relieved that the pilot was caught in the act.
A number of passengers were infuriated that the test was a random act. They felt that for every Singapore Airlines pilot blood alcohol test should be made compulsory.
Right now, there is no requirement for Singapore Airlines pilot blood alcohol test to be conducted. Individual airports and countries opt to carry out random drug and alcohol testing in partnership with the relevant aviation authority.
Does aviation have a problem with alcohol?
This isn’t the first time a pilot has been caught over the limit to fly. Back in June, British Airways pilot Julian Monaghan pleaded guilty to being drunk on duty. He wasn’t tested, but a cabin crew member smelt alcohol on his breath and alerted the airport.
In 2016, Carlos Robert Licona was frogmarched from a United Airlines flight for being drunk, and in 2002 an America West Airlines flight from Miami to Phoenix was forced to return after both pilots were found to be drunk. In 2013, Pakistani pilot Irfan Faiz was jailed for nine months after being caught three times over the limit.
Although stories like this are almost guaranteed to make juicy headlines, the number of pilots caught being over the limit is relatively low. Of the 12,480 pilots who were tested in the US during 2015, only 10 came out positive. India has somewhat stricter regulations and caught 46 pilots in 2016.
Can airline pilots drink at all?
In the UK, the limit is 20mg of alcohol for each 100ml of blood, or 0.02%, which is around a quarter of the limit for driving a car. Most other countries have similar limits, although India is even stricter with a zero tolerance policy.
Aviation authorities recommend a time period of eight hours ‘bottle to throttle’, although Singapore Airlines have stated they recommend ten. Either way, the time window is something of a misconception, as heavy drinking, even with a ten hour window, could still lead to a blood alcohol level higher than the limit.
Even a small amount of alcohol can impair pilots to the extent where they could be a danger to their passengers. The effect of alcohol on the brain, eyes, inner ear and reaction times make a deadly cocktail of problems. Even flying with a hangover could be a risk, so any pilot worth his wings would hopefully abstain from alcohol any time they are due to fly soon.
Featured Image: Singapore Airlines