06 June, 2018

Former BA pilot admits to being 4 times over the alcohol limit to fly - are drunk pilots on the rise?

A British Airways pilot turned up to fly a packed passenger jet to the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius on the 18th January this year, whilst being over four times the legal alcohol limit for pilots! 

Julian Monaghan, 49, who no longer works for British Airways was arrested at Gatwick Airport after turning up drunk for the flight. Apparently, cabin crew members smelt alcohol on his breath and called the police, who attended the aircraft and arrested him. The flight eventually took off with a replacement pilot, some two hours late. 

Monaghan appeared at Crawley Magistrates Court this week which heard he had 86mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood in his system, the legal limit for a pilot is 20mg.  Monagham admitted his guilt and will have to appear at Lewes Crown Court on the 12th June for sentencing.

It seems shocking that a highly skilled professional pilot should not only risk his career but also the lives of hundreds of passengers by turning up to fly a passenger aircraft under the influence of alcohol, yet it does happen, perhaps more frequently than we know.

On Friday 25th May, a senior KLM pilot was arrested and detained for two weeks in Oslo after failing an alcohol breath test on the cockpit just prior to a flight to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. KLM issued the following statement, "The authorities in Oslo, Norway, have arrested a pilot following an alcohol test at the airport. We cannot give any further comment on this case, as an investigation is currently underway. More generally, KLM would like to reassert its firm conviction that alcohol and flying do not go together. Safety is always our chief priority.".  We understand that the pilot is appealing the charge as whilst he was over the limit, it was a very low reading.

The day after, 26th May two Russian pilots, flying for Aeroflot's low-cost subsidiary Pobeda were taken off the flight after turning up to fly drunk. Both have since been removed from the airlines' workforce. 

United Airlines had to compensate all the passengers on a regional flight with Trans States Airlines from Denver to North Dakota on Thursday 3rd May because of a drunk crew member. This time, however, it wasn't those at the sharp end at the controls that caused concern, it was a flight attendant, who was apparently slurring her words, acting strangely, being belligerent” and swearing. United said in a statement "We are aware of a concerning incident involving a flight attendant serving on our regional service provider Trans States Airlines flight 4689. As a gesture of goodwill, we have compensated all customers aboard the flight and we apologize for any inconvenience or distress this may have caused. The safety of our customers and crew aboard all United and Trans States flights is a top priority."

The police at Schiphol arrested a foreign pilot on 9th April as he was preparing for departure on the cockpit of his jet,  a breath test showed he was three times over the limit to fly and was removed him from the plane.  The local police only gave limited details at the time, saying he was 39-years-old and a foreign pilot but wouldn't confirm for which airline he worked for.

These are just the most recent incidents of flight crew being found to be under the influence of drink or drugs whilst turning up to fly, but is it a big issue and should we really worry about it?  No, not really, according to David, a pilot for a leading trans-Atlantic airline based at London Gatwick, "By far the vast majority of aircrew are highly trained and highly professional and wouldn't dream of turning up for work knowing they might be even the slightest bit under the influence of drink or drugs.  Quite apart from the legal limits, most airlines have their own rules or regulations or guidelines that stipulate zero alcohol intake 8, 10 or 12 hours prior to reporting for duty."

Another captain for a different airline who has been flying passenger aircraft for over 35 years dismissed the suggestion that the occasions of pilots turning up for work drunk are increasing."Not at all, I'd say incidents of intoxicated air crew are decreasing, we only get to hear more about it these days is the increasing connectivity of the world, thanks to rolling 24 hour news, social media and the internet means we all know about it when it happens."