Intoxicated Japan Airlines Pilot Sentenced To 10 Months In Prison

Filed Under: Japan Airlines

A few weeks ago I shared the story of a Japan Airlines 777 pilot who was caught at London Heathrow Airport nearly 10x over the legal alcohol limit for pilots.

The 42 year old first officer was supposed to operate a flight to Tokyo Haneda on October 28, when he was given a breathalyzer just shortly before departure, and was found to have 189mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood in his system

The legal limit for pilots is 20mg, which is much lower than what it is for drivers. As a point of comparison, in England the limit for drivers is 80mg per 100ml of blood, and it’s similar in most of the US.

So he was significantly more than twice over the legal drinking limit for drivers, which is pretty insane. The pilot was immediately arrested and given a court date, and we now know the results of that, per The Guardian.

We now also know a bit more about what happened. Security at the airport had noticed that the pilot had glazed eyes and struggled to stand up straight. Security staff then boarded the aircraft, where the pilot was found rinsing with mouthwash, before eventually taking a breathalyzer.

The pilot has been sentenced to 10 months in jail in the UK for his actions.

Of course it’s good that the guy got caught, rather than operating a flight where he was potentially putting hundreds of peoples’ lives in jeopardy. At the same time, someone who would do something like this clearly has deeper issues, and that’s sad as well.

The 42 year old had apparently dreamed of being a pilot since a very young age, but the realities of longhaul travel had destroyed that for him. As his lawyer explained:

“He said he became unhappy, suffered with sleeplessness, started feeling depressed. It would seem he used alcohol as a means of self-medication.”

He was the sole provider for his three young children, and feels an “abject disgrace” to the airline, passengers, and his family, “for the shame he had brought upon them.”

The pilot has since been fired by the airline.

Bottom line

Like I said above, this is tragic on many levels. It’s sad that the pilot would endanger other peoples’ lives in this way, though it’s also tragic that he was in a place in his life where he felt this was appropriate and necessary.

It continues to be alarming to me how often pilots are caught intoxicated, and especially how it’s almost always by security staff. It sure makes you wonder how often pilots are turning a blind eye to drunk colleagues.

(Featured image courtesy of Masakatsu Ukon, tip of the hat to The Nice Paul)

  1. Nobody saw or reported anything on the crew bus? Amazing. If they wanted to cover for him, could have just asked him to call in sick. His colleagues rather risked the lives of the passengers

  2. I think it’s also worth pointing out that the legal limits for driving in UK and the US is ridiculously high, and almost unique compared to the rest of the world. The most common limit for driving is the same as you describe for pilots in the UK. Many countries it’s also 0mg/100ml (why it’s not 0mg/100ml for pilots is beyond me..). All of this is just to point out that 189mg/100ml is INSANELY high before operating a longhaul flight.

  3. But only 10 months? Really? It’s almost like, oh, the accident is avoided, nobody got hurt, alright 10 months. And if something really happened, then you’d be looking at years……smack my head

  4. Ten month in UK jail is pretty tough. I know what they do in UK jail so I am not sure he will survive it. And he will also serve time in Japan upon release from UK jail.

  5. The legal limit in England and Wales is much lower than 80mg, it’s 35mgs and even lower in Scotland at 22mg.

    As for this pilot .. how can you even contemplate flying with that reading!!

  6. @ Eddie

    His life is destroyed, his 3 kids will have a miserable year, too, and he gets to spend 10 months in a UK jail (more like 6, actually, because as a non-violent offender he’ll probably get early release). UK jails are utterly miserable – after those of the US, they’re probably the most miserable of any western democracy.

    That sounds like a pretty catastrophic set of consequences to me. Out of interest, what do you think would be an appropriate sentence for him?

    @ Chris

    Can’t speak for the US, yet with that “ridiculous” limit the UK has some of the safest roads in the western world. Still far too many people are killed each year – about 3,000, from memory – but per head of population that’s very low. Drink-driving is pretty vigorously policed in the UK, and is always harshly dealt with – rightly, given the potential to cause misery to others. Though it’s also led to the closure of a huge number of country and village pubs, because people can’t drink and drive…

  7. Some alcoholics function better with the juice! This pilot got caught before anyone got hurt. This is a very harsh sentence. Alcoholism is a disease, he needs treatment, therapy, and support. Hopefully his assigned prison offers all these services!

  8. @ Cjc_IOW Ben is right re the drink drive limit it is 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood. You referenced 35 which is micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath.

  9. I’m surprised the JAL Captain didn’t talk to him or at the very least tell him to call in sick in the crew bus or lobby of the hotel.

  10. its a tragic story really, Although he was irresponsible and made a terrible mistake, I feel sorry for this man and his children and his punishment is incredibly harsh.
    I’ve seen stories where repeat drunk d rfivinf offenders who jave caused death or injury recieve lesser sentences.

  11. Alcoholism, aka alcohol “dependency,” is a disease. Why is it treated as a criminal offense? Should someone with diabetes be arrested, have his/her name published for all the world to read, be shamed, and be locked up in jail? When will this disease be given the same professional treatment as other medical conditions?

    Yes, this pilot erred in judgement attempting to fly and risk multiple lives. But, part of the disease affects the brain. The constant stigma of this disease keeps individuals, their family, friends and colleagues from seeking the right kind of help.

    It was fortunate this pilot was stopped from flying London to Tokyo for the sake of the passengers and crew. But unfortunate treatment for a disease!

  12. Chris,

    A 0 mg limit won’t work because many everyday food and drink products have trace amounts of alcohol in them, plus some medicines.

    20 mg for pilots and 80 mg for drivers is fair. 80 mg equates to about two glasses of wine, and I can definitely drink that and be 100% safe driving. In fact if I do that I am generally safer because I go slower and am more careful than normal.

    Re this flight there are three pilots on board, so the risk would be mitigated – everything is cross-checked.

  13. Are there any airlines that allow a glass of wine to be consumed with pilot meals? Or is that a wives’ tale?

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