Pilot jailed for being three times over alcohol limit while reporting for duty to fly 300 passengers
Julian Monaghan resigned from BA as soon as blood test results confirmed the presence of alcohol in his system
A pilot flying for British Airways has been sentenced to eight months in prison after he turned up drunk to fly 300 passengers to Mauritius. He reportedly had downed three double vodkas at his hotel room the night before the flight.
Just ten minutes before the Boeing 777 was due to take off from London Gatwick Airport, armed police authorities hauled off 49-year-old Julian Monaghan from the cockpit of the packed jet after he failed a breathalyzer test.
Colleagues of the pilot claimed that they had seen him down one-liter bottles of vodka a night and said that he had a longstanding drinking problem. "There is a pilots' 'dosshouse' on the Bath Road opposite Heathrow which has five bedrooms and pilots can bed down there on the night before a flight," a source said. "It's a convenient place to get some rest before a long-haul flight. Then they usually go straight to the airport and report for duty.
"After Mr Monaghan stayed there, empty vodka bottles – one-liter ones – were often found. It became a routine discovery and the cleaner eventually twigged and was all for reporting it to BA, but was talked out of it. It seems that pilot colleagues must have realized there was a problem with this guy, so someone was covering up for him. You can't just turn a blind eye to something like that. It goes beyond being loyal to a friend and colleague."
According to BA rules, the staff is not allowed to drink eight hours prior to work — the company pointed out the same when informed about the empty bottles.
"We have never received any such claim. We have very strict rules about alcohol consumption ahead of a flight, and the safety and security of our customers and colleagues is always our top priority," it said. "This behavior is completely unacceptable and not what we expect from our highly professional fleet of pilots."
Monaghan posed 'a safety risk' and was 'not fit to operate', according to a warning issued by the company seven years earlier after he was involved in a bar fight after getting drunk. However, the airline asserted that as the incident was an isolated one, it did not mean that he was unfit to fly their aircraft.
The embattled pilot admitted that after flying into London Heathrow overnight from South Africa, he had started drinking at about 10.15 am in his hotel room at Gatwick.
According to reports, before Monaghan was scheduled to fly the 9.20 pm flight, he drank three miniature bottles of vodka, mixed with coke. Law enforcement authorities stormed the flight right after the doors were closed and it was about to push back.
Despite Monaghan's efforts at hiding the smell of alcohol by chewing gum, airport technician Verity McAllen caught the alcohol on his breath as final checks were carried out on the flight. McAllen immediately reported the authorities about the same. Upon their arrival, they waited five minutes before testing Monaghan, who was one of two senior officers on board, after asking him to remove the gum from his mouth.
As they drove the pilot to Crawley police station, officers noticed the smell of alcohol on his breath, even though he was still chewing the piece of gum.
Passengers aboard the plane as well as the public had the right to expect commercial pilots to not be over the alcohol limit, said Judge Janet Waddicor. However, the presiding judge reduced his sentence from 12 months for his early guilty plea to 8 months.
She said: "No doubt many of the passengers were looking forward to a holiday in Mauritius."
According to the judge, the flight was delayed by one hour and 40 minutes. She said: "Entirely because you had presented with an alcohol reading four times the limit for pilots. The limits for pilots are pitched deliberately low because of the responsibility which attaches to the job. The lives of the people on board are in the hands of the pilot.
"The people who live on the flight path are entitled to feel they are safe. It may be you would have got away with it because you say you weren't aware you were over the limit. You say you were staggered at the reading and when the police reading was confirmed you resigned.
"It will come as some consolation and comfort to passengers that a technician came to stand very close to you when checking out a piece of equipment she was aware of a strong odor of intoxicating liquor on your breath.
"Miss McAllan reported her suspicion and police were called," Her Honour Judge Waddicor said. "Good for her."
Prosecutor Amy Packham said: "He maintains he hadn't had any alcohol in the eight hours before reporting for duty.
"The Crown submits that eight hours is a long period of time and, if that is correct, there must have been a significant amount consumed just prior to that for the reading to be as high as it was ten hours later."
Packham said: "He was over the limit even for a car. For a pilot, he was four times over. He gave a prepared statement in an interview saying he had flown from Cape Town to Heathrow.
"He had nothing to eat on the flight had one glass of wine and got the bus to his Gatwick hotel. He said he stayed in his room on his own until 6 pm. He got to the aircraft at 7.30pm and said he felt fine. He was shocked when told he was being arrested and was surprised at the reading. He said: 'I remain saddened and bewildered by these events and will wait for the blood sample which has been taken.'"
Monaghan resigned from BA as soon as blood test results confirmed the presence of alcohol in his system. The defense attorney, Emily Jones, asserted that the embattled pilot has lost everything and "is now a shadow of the man who had dreamed of being a pilot as a young boy."
Jones commented that Monaghan admitted to drinking three miniature bottles of vodka, which he could buy at a discounted rate in a duty-free scheme available to flight staff. Monaghan offered a full apology to the passengers of the flight as well as his family and will never fly commercially again, Jones informed.
She also said that the alcohol readings and his public arrest had caused him a huge embarrassment and he was shocked by the whole affair.
Tragically, due to a costly divorce settlement a decade ago, the pilot has no savings. Also, he has a teenage son sitting for his GCSEs who would not speak to him after the incident.
The court was told that Monaghan is hoping to get a job in South Africa, re-training as a drone pilot to take location and property photographs for estate agents.
Jones said: "There is deeply felt and genuine remorse. There is a real understanding that what he has done is serious and has caused damage to himself, his employers and his family."
Flight stewards decided to call the authorities before the airplane left the departure gate. Subsequently, he was arrested and escorted out of the airport in handcuffs.
At the police station, Monaghan admitted having 86mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood in his system while the limit for pilots is 20mg.
Judge Waddicor said: "It must have been humiliating for you to be escorted from the plane and to the runway and must have been startling for the passengers onboard.
"It is a personal tragedy you have lost your reputation and your salary. What better deterrent for a pilot as to what can happen if you drink than to see what has happened to you.
"The safety of passengers and the public confidence in airplane pilots is critical.
"Passengers should feel confident the man or woman flying the aircraft which they are traveling several thousand feet above the ground has not exceeded the alcohol limit.'
The magistrate at Crawley described his reduction last week by comparing his blood alcohol level to drunk driving as "spurious".
David Wiggins, the chair of the bench, said at the time: "I have to say the comparison to drink-driving is somewhat spurious in these circumstances.
"A pilot in a Boeing 777 is somewhat different from driving on the road, so we are completely ignoring that comment."
A BA spokesman said: "This behavior is completely unacceptable and not what we expect from our highly professional fleet of pilots.
"The safety and security of our customers and colleagues is always our top priority.'
The officer in charge of the case, Detective Constable Stuart Macpherson, said: "Monaghan was reported to us through the diligence and integrity of the aircraft technician who smelt alcohol on his breath and alerted the authorities as appropriate.
"Although he offered mitigating circumstances and was not an operating pilot on the day in question, he was still an active member of the flight deck and could have been called upon at any moment. Therefore his mitigation does not alter the fact that he potentially put the lives of more than 200 people at risk.
"There are no lay-bys at 30,000ft and has Monaghan been required to take control of the aircraft in the event of an emergency on the flight deck in the early stages of the flight, his judgment and abilities would have been impaired."
Senior Crown Prosecutor Alice Trodden added: "The defendant was four times over the prescribed alcohol limit when he reported for duty as first officer for the flight.
"The defendant was arrested just ten minutes before the flight was due to push back and the potential consequences, had he been required to take control of the plane while impaired in the event of an emergency, cannot be underestimated.
"In the face of the overwhelming evidence put forward by the police and CPS, the defendant pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity."