Forget Drones Watch For Dronkgats

Sven Tailback, Unsplash. 


There we were, minding our own beeswax when suddenly the story dropped.  Two pilots arrested at Glasgow airport.  The charge?  Suspicion of being drunk on duty.  So let that sink in, folks.  Two pilots,  United Airlines, Drunk.  Passengers.  Busy flight.  Slurred reporting.  Blurred vision.  An intimate experience with the granite cloud awaits.

United Airlines confirmed the two unnamed pilots aged 35 and 45 were taken away by Scottish police on Sunday August 28th who reported the two were “carrying out pilot function or activity while exceeding the prescribed limit of alcohol”.

Now that is a scary story.  I know my commercial pilot friends will titter and the more gung ho amongst them will defend the pilots with something along the lines of “It’s a stressful job” or “they weren’t actually drunk,  just had babelas”.


The law is pretty strict when it comes to driving an aeroplane filled with passengers.  Alcohol stays in your system for 8 hours and even longer if its a binge.  That’s why Aviation Law (yes I recently failed my Comm exam but know enough to knew this) says all pilots should refrain from imbibing alcohol at least 12 hours before flying.

Staying upright. 

Alcoholics have an even bigger problem.  When you’re stressed,  the poison seeps back into your blood stream so that you may be sober when the incident starts,  but by the time its progressed to an emergency your bloodstream is drenched in various chemicals.  Some of these help, like adrenalin.  Some don’t.  Like alcohol.

The two pilots here were held in the cockpit by police.  The question has to be asked “who figured out how dronk these two were?” if indeed they were dronk.  But given United Airlines comment,  there’s no doubt whatever happens they’re in REAL trouble.

It means goodbye license.

There’ve been many cases of accidents directly related to pilot incapacitation caused by many things.  Mainly alcohol.  So let’s take a look at a few.

  1. McDonnell Douglas operated by Japan Airlines in 1977 crashed after take-off from Anchorage airport in Alaska.  Cause? From the report “The initial blood alcohol level of the captain was 298 mugs percent. A blood alcohol level of 100 mgs percent was considered to be legally intoxicating for drivers in the State of Alaska”.
  2. De Havilland DHC Twin Otter operated by the Royal Norwegian Air Force in 1972 crashed into a mountain near near Harstad, Norway.  All 17 aboard were killed. Cause? Pilot’s high blood alcohol level and lack of sleep.
  3. Douglas C-47A crashed on final approach at Vaasa Airport in Finland in 1961.  All 25 aboard were killed and the cause was officially ascribed to the pilot and first officer both having been .. well .. drunk. 

There are at least 39 other examples of air accidents directly related to flying drunk.  The full list can be found at the Aviation Safety Website.  The majority of these include the words “Antonov” and at least 8 are linked to Aeroflot.

Things have improved in Russia since the plethora of incidents in the ’70s but the macho male culture in the region has not.

Let’s read what Captain Wendy Morse Chairman, United MEC has to say to her fellow pilots this week.

“As I read the articles, I began to understand how long it could take, worst case, to return to a zero blood alcohol level after having maybe one too many drinks in a fatigued state.  In one of my calculations I doubled the time as one article indicates metabolism can vary by as much as 50 percent, and I start below the average weight to begin with.  I came up with 20 hours – too long to be over the legal alcohol limit and recover.  I also was reminded from the articles about serving size, and therefore how to count what I have consumed properly.”

Twenty hours?  A whole day before flying.  Aviation Law states the following:

FAR 91.17 states that we may not operate or attempt to operate an aircraft:

  • Within 8 hours of having consumed alcohol
  • While under the influence of alcohol
  • With a blood alcohol content of 0.04% or greater

But the wise pilot will abstain completely at least 24 hours before taking off.  The punishment is harsh.  All certification will be revoked and the pilots will not be able to regain them for a minimum of a year.  Twelve months no income.  Disaster just because you decided to have a few shots of tequila within the window period.

Makes no sense after decades of hard work to write everything off in a haze of mestizo.



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