Pilot arrested before take off at Heathrow Airport after he was found to be "10 times over alcohol limit"
The pilot passed an in-house breath test but a bus driver alerted authorities that he was drunk, forcing the plane to fly to Tokyo with only two pilots instead of the usual three.
Police reported that shortly before a flight from Heathrow Airport, a Japanese pilot admitted to being almost 10 times over the alcohol limit. 42-year-old First Officer Katsutoshi Jitsukawa failed a breathalyzer test just 50 minutes before Japan Airlines flight JL44 to Tokyo was due to take off with him in the cockpit, thus leading to his arrest. The driver of a crew bus alerted authorities after smelling alcohol on his breath, according to Japanese broadcaster NHK.
JL44 was operated by a Boeing 777 aircraft, which has a capacity of up to 244 passengers. Jitsukawa pleaded guilty to exceeding the alcohol limit at Uxbridge Magistrates' Court on Thursday, according to a Metropolitan Police spokesman, Daily Mail reports.
That said, he had 189mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood in his system, the test revealed, which is almost 10 times the 20mg limit for a pilot. In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the drink-drive limit is 80 mg. Jitsukawa will be sentenced November 29 at Isleworth Crown Court. He is currently remanded in custody. In response to the incident, JAL issued an unconditional apology, pledging to "implement immediate actions to prevent any future occurrence", adding that "safety remains our utmost priority." Due to the untoward turn of events, the said flight was delayed for 69 minutes.
Recently, Julian Monaghan, an experienced British Airways pilot, was sentenced to eight months in prison in June after being caught on duty with more than four times the alcohol limit in his blood. Monaghan was due on board a flight from Gatwick Airport to Mauritius on January 18 when he drank three double vodkas in his hotel room on an empty stomach.
While Jitsukawa had cleared an in-house breath test on Sunday, the bus driver taking him to the plane grew suspicious after he smelled the alcohol on his breath and reported to authorities, JAL executives told reporters. Upon information, airport authorities made the first officer take a second breath test before take-off, which clearly showed that he had consumed "excessive alcohol". The company said in a press release that British police subsequently arrested him and he underwent a blood test to confirm the results.
Addressing a press conference, Muneaki Kitahara, JAL's head of communications, said: "We are certain (the in-house breath test) wasn't conducted properly." However, the plane departed Heathrow for Tokyo's Haneda airport with two pilots rather than the customary three after the 69-minute delay. If flights are longer than 12 hours, airlines usually assign two captains and a co-pilot to maneuver the plane in order to facilitate necessary breaks for each pilot. "The company sincerely apologizes to the passengers and to all affected by the employee's actions," JAL said in the press release.