General Aviation Also Experiencing A Cluster Of Boozy
As Aero-News reported this
weekend, one manifested person wasn't aboard American
Airline Flight 66 from Manchester, England to Chicago when it took
off an hour late Saturday morning. He was the reason the flight was
late. You see, he was one of the pilots, and was under arrest on
suspicion of being drunk.
The pilot, who remains unidentified, was released after
unspecified tests and must report to a Manchester police station on
Tuesday. While this is the first high-profile alcohol-related
incident to taint American Airlines's escutcheon, a look at
Aero-News's archives and other news sources tell us that there have
been a number of such incidents in recent years.
Flight 55 normally leaves Manchester with three pilots aboard.
The third or "relief" pilot is required because the flight is over
eight hours long, and as the title suggests, spells the other two
pilots during the flight. The flight, originally a nonstop, was
redispatched to stop in New York and pick up a third pilot for the
last leg of the flight. Along with the late start, the extra stop
made the flight almost four hours late to Chicago.
The accused pilot hasn't been identified yet. He is 45 years
old, male, and a resident of Ohio. He was the scheduled relief
pilot on Flight 55. The airplane is a Boeing 767-300. Among
American's pilots, 767 international seats are considered a plum
assignment, and are a popular bid for pilots with enough seniority
(many American pilots remain furloughed, and some 767 pilots of
2001 now drive 737s).
In an interview, American spokesman Tim Wagner told the
Associated Press that this was an "isolated incident." (You don't
say!!) "American Airlines has strict policies on alcohol and
substance abuse and holds its employees to the highest standards,"
a statement from the company said by way of amplification.
There have reportedly been other incidents of "suspicion of
drunkenness" at Manchester in which the accused pilots have
ultimately been cleared. Aviation experts and British pilots seem
to agree that security is on a particular hair trigger at
Manchester, compared to other British airports. This may be due to
the Finnair incident in 2004 (see below) having raised security
While American Airlines
has dodged the bullet till now on pilot drunkenness, and might
dodge this one yet if it's another false alarm, it's not because
American has few pilots. The world's largest airline, since the
break-up of Aeroflot, American has about 9,265 active pilots, of
whom about 2,855 are on furlough. (These unofficial numbers were
grabbed off a pilot-jobs website -- take them with a grain of
Selected Air Carrier Alcohol Incidents
October 2005, Miami: A United Air Lines pilot
was removed from the cockpit,
questioned by police, and suspended by the airline, but no breath
or blood test was done. TSA screeners said they smelled alcohol on
his breath. This incident may still be under administrative
investigation and/or appeal.
August, 2004, Manchester, England: Finnair
pilot Heikki Tallila was arrested, while preparing to fly a charter
full of vacationers, drunk. His 225 passengers waited on the
757 for six hours for Finnair to find a replacement pilot, before
finally jetting off to Turkey. Tallila got a six month jail
sentence, lost his job and license, and had to seek treatment for
alcoholism and depression.
May, 2004, Scranton,
PA: An FAA inspector told authorities he smelled alcohol
on the breath of a Vacation Air FO. Arrested, Scott Russell told a judge during his
guilty plea that the arrest saved his life. He was
sentenced to 8-14 months.
November 2003, Norway: a British Airways pilot
was arrested while preparing to fly -- he may have been sober, but
his copilot and other crewmembers were drunk. He was sentenced to
six months in prison in June, 2005.
July 2003, Dayton, OH: Screeners accuse an
AirTran pilot of being drunk. He is given a Breathalyzer right on
the jetway -- and blows a 0.0. The screeners are fired after an
investigation, but demand their jobs back. (They
also refer to a Michigan drunk-pilot incident the same month, which
we were not otherwise able to document.
July 2002, Miami: Thomas Cloyd and Christopher
Hughes, a pilot and copilot for America West were busted taxiing
under the influence. After a plea offer was rejected, they stood
trial with the bold if hopeless defense that, since they were
stopped while the airplane was still being tugged, they weren't
actually operating it. They were convicted in 2005 and sentenced
to prison (5 years for the captain, 2 1/2 years for
the FO). Immediately after the incident, they were fired by America West and
suffered emergency license revocation.
In addition to the air carrier incidents enumerated here, there
have been a plethora of GA drunk-pilot cases lately. In December,
ANN's Editor in Chief Jim Campbell discussed them with AOPA Medical
Certification Director Gary Crump. It was the day's special podcast feature
on December 1, 2005.