Job Safety

October 29, 2008

Drunk Pilots – Again?

At Heathrow Airport last Sunday a United Airlines pilot was arrested in the cockpit just prior to takeoff on suspicion of being drunk. He was. He would have taken the controls of the Boeing 777 had it not been for a last minute call from an observant ground crew. It could have been an extremely dangerous 5,300 mile flight to San Francisco.

The situation just described is highly unusual. Pilot fatigue is a far more serious problem. But in the case of fatigue the the pilot would be just as impaired. BLT has long maintained that commercial pilots should be tested for alertness prior to piloting an aircraft. Our short 2 minute BLT Alertness Test is sensitive to fatigue and to other causes of impairment like drugs and alcohol. And while we do not generally anticipate alcohol impairment, obviously, it does happen. The question is how often. In this case detection was almost by chance.

Aircraft mechanics spend hundreds of hours checking an aircraft for flight readiness. Checklist are filled out, inspections are made. As all of us can attest, if a critical component is not right, the aircraft does not fly. Yet the most critical component, the pilot, is not checked at all.

A consistent program of testing will deter this kind of behavior and offer better safety to thousands of passengers who rely on others. Our test will stop drunk pilots before they board.