The Japan News/ANN
A Japan Airlines copilot was arrested by British police after he was found to have alcohol levels more than 10 times Britain’s legal limit immediately before a flight from London’s Heathrow Airport to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, the airline announced Thursday.
JAL will investigate the case and suspects the male copilot, 42, cheated a pre-flight alcohol test conducted by the company, as it did not detect any abnormalities.
According to the the company, the copilot and two captains were supposed to operate JAL Flight 44 scheduled to depart Heathrow at 7 p.m. Sunday local time. However, a bus driver noticed the smell of alcohol while transporting flight crew to airplanes and other destinations and notified a relevant airport official. Police then arrived at the scene, conducted a breath test and arrested the copilot that night when the test revealed a reading of 0.93 milligrams of alcohol per liter of breath — about 10 times the limit under British transport safety laws and regulations.
Under Japan’s Road Traffic Law, drivers are considered to be driving under the influence if they have an alcohol-per-liter-of-breath reading of 0.15 milligrams or higher.
The copilot was released after taking a blood test at a British police station, but was detained again on Wednesday when the test confirmed his blood alcohol content was 9 times Britain’s statutory limit. In an interview conducted by JAL just after his release, the copilot said he consumed more than two bottles of wine and more than 1.8 liters of beer by himself at a bar and in a hotel room where he stayed for about six hours until 20 hours before the flight.
Under company rules, pilots are prohibited from drinking alcohol within 12 hours before a flight. Drinking is banned more than 12 hours before departure if it could affect one’s ability to operate a flight. Before boarding the bus, the copilot and the two captains took a company-administered breath test at JAL’s Heathrow office. The copilot breathed into a device in front of the two captains but did not test positive for alcohol, according to the airline.
When queried about his physical condition, the copilot reportedly said he felt a little sluggish. When asked if he took the breath test properly, he apologized, saying, “I’m sorry.”
The device used for the breath test requires users to breathe into its main body. “There is no doubt the copilot did not correctly measure his breath,” a JAL official said. The two captains said they had not noticed the smell of alcohol or the copilot’s intoxication, according to the company.
The copilot joined JAL in 2000 and has worked as a pilot for about 15 years. Copilots are normally in charge of such tasks as checking meter gauges and conducting external communications, but they sometimes operate aircraft.
After the copilot’s intoxication was detected, Flight 44 was operated by only the two captains and departed at 8:09 p.m. Sunday — about an hour behind schedule — with 235 passengers onboard.
At a press conference Thursday in Tokyo, JAL Director and Senior Management Executive Officer Toshinori Shin said, “We feel responsible for failing to detect [the copilot’s inebriation] through our company’s test and that this was reported by a third party.” The airline said that within the month, it would start using a new detection device used at Japanese airports at all airports worldwide.
‘Deplorable’ security issue
The incident is “deeply deplorable as it may undermine people’s confidence in aviation security,” Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Toursim Minister Keiichi Ishii said at a press conference on Friday after a Cabinet meeting.
In a separate incident, it was revealed Wednesday that a captain of an ANA Group company was unable to operate a flight due to the influence of alcohol, resulting in delays to five flights. Following these incidents, the transport ministry plans to introduce tougher rules regarding such criteria as alcohol limits for pilot