Japan Airlines Pilot Caught Nearly 10x Over Legal Alcohol Limit

Filed Under: Japan Airlines

This is pretty nuts. It’s being reported that on Sunday, October 28, 2018, a Japan Airlines first officer was caught trying to board a plane nearly 10x over the legal alcohol limit for pilots. He was supposed to operate JL44 from London Heathrow to Tokyo Haneda, which ended up being delayed by a bit over an hour.

The 42 year old 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 appeared in court yesterday, claiming that this was due to serious drinking the previous night at his hotel bar and room. I’d like to point out this flight was scheduled to depart at 7PM, so to suggest he had that much alcohol in his system from drinking the following evening is highly, highly unlikely (or even more alarming, since he was likely near death if he still had that much in his system so many hours later).

The pilot only got discovered by the hotel bus driver, who smelled alcohol on his breath. We hear of drunk pilots trying to board flights fairly often (obviously a tiny percentage of the overall pilots out there, but still…).

Obviously it’s incredibly disturbing that anyone would be so irresponsible with other peoples’ lives in their hands. But possibly what I find even more disturbing is that it’s almost never the other pilots who are reporting those who are drunk.

Are you really going to tell me that the other pilots didn’t notice how drunk he was? It’s so irresponsible that they wouldn’t report their colleague. It also makes me wonder how many flights end up actually being operated by drunk pilots, given that apparently many pilots can’t be relied on to report their colleagues.

Japan Airlines has issued a statement pledging to “implement immediate actions to prevent any future occurrence,” and added that “safety remains [their] utmost priority.”

  1. The Tenerife disaster happened because KLM’s copilot didn’t dare to confront his superior. I always read that since then protocols came into place to prevent such incidents from happening again. News like this makes me wonder how comfortable copilots are to question the seniority of the captains.

  2. If ever convicted, do these guys lose their their certification or license to fly permanently? It seems that one of the few ways to stop this behavior would be to have a ban for life along some prison time.

  3. You’re too young, Lucky, to remember an incident in 1977 in which a Japan Airlines cargo plane crashed taking-off from Anchorage, killing all the pilots. The captain was so drunk that the cab driver who carried the pilots from the hotel to the airport phoned his dispatcher. The dispatcher contacted Japan Airlines but the whole procedure took so long that the plane was able to take-off. Apparently the two junior pilots were too intimidated by their intoxicated captain to refuse to fly. Very sad. I was a flight attendant on a layover in Anchorage on the day of that crash.

  4. What’s worse? They probably won’t fire the pilot. Japan Airlines kept information on possible actions very minimal for this likely reason.

    Think about the contracts, unionized field, and the shortage. They will send the pilot off to some safety courses and addiction help, very minimal, then place them back onto a plane

  5. @ Eugene

    Actually, the pilot is almost certain to be imprisoned when he’s sentenced later this month. Earlier this year a BA pilot convicted of having much less alcohol in his blood got an 8 month prison sentence from the same court.

  6. Sadly typical Japanese mentality. They have so much respect to their superiors that they would never dare to say anything, even if they make a fatal error.

  7. Do pilots have to “clock in” in the crew room at the airport where they are flying out from? If so, why not install a breathalyzer to that machine and check all pilots?

  8. Let’s also not forget that deference to superiors and respecting hierarchy is a fundamental aspect of Japanese culture. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the crew may have been afraid to confront the intoxicated pilot for fear of reprisal.

  9. There’s comments about not questioning superiority, but this was a first officer? So the Captain should be questioning their junior without hesitation. But given in this case he was ‘caught trying to board’ it sounds like he didn’t get that far (ie to the cockpit)

  10. That pilot, has a serious drink problem. No, I don’t believe he got this drunk the day/night before. As Lucky pointed out, that much alcohol, would normally cause a blood poisoning; in social drinkers I add. But he was being able to function (put on clothes, walk to the bus, etc.)!?! That’s another sign this guy is very likely alc addict, and needs help, and maybe putting him to prison will sort that out.

    Shame though. Was it his dream, to be a professional pilot? I’d like to think that… And then, having it all taken away due to dependency, drink problem, so sad!

  11. Why don’t airlines and/or airport enforce pilots to take a breathalyzer test before getting into the airport? Wouldn’t this stop most pilot from drinking in the first place?

  12. I once knew an aircraft mechanic who worked for Delta and he was the biggest drug addict I ever met. I don’t know how he got caught but I heard many years later that he was fired. You have to wonder, with the many critical jobs in the airline industry and the problems with drugs and alcohol in the world, how well this industry is policed. Are the bus drivers the first check? Scary stuff.

  13. If you recall the recent incident on All Nippon involving a European manager, it’s likely not only will he lose his job but there will be repercussions for other JL staff involving sanctions/loss of benefits /pay cuts . The Japanese won’t take this lightly
    It’s bizarre how not one of the other crew didn’t report this no matter his position

  14. In the U.S., the other crew members can be held responsible in some way if a pilot was obviously drunk and they don’t say anything. The normal course of action would be to tell the drunk crew member to call in sick and then get the union’s substance abuse volunteers involved and get the pilot into a recovery program monitored by the FAA. If the pilot refuses, then it would go to on duty management and the pilot found intoxicated would go through the corporate system for substance abuse. It could mean the end of a career, but more likely entering a substance abuse program monitored and approved by the company, union, and the FAA. This is all what would happen if the pilot is stopped before ever getting to the airport. If they are caught drunk after reporting for duty then losing a job is probably the least of their concerns. Most would be facing some time in jail depending how far over the legal limit. There’s also a chance this pilot didn’t come into contact with the rest of the crew. He could have been at a different hotel or on a different schedule for a variety of reasons. The crew resource management issues in japan, stemming from the culture’s deference to authority, are a thing of past from what I hear. Also this was a first officer, not a captain.

  15. @ super vc-10 the captain of jl8054 was Hugh Marsh. Caucasian however intoxicated nevertheless several witnesses confirm he had been drinking and he was at least 3 x over the limit

  16. Are you really going to tell me that the other pilots didn’t notice how drunk he was?

    If he’s a chronic alcoholic (which he probably is) he would have built up a very significant tolerance such that he could have a high blood alcohol level and still function normally. So don’t assume that he was stumbling and sluring his words or even significantly impaired.

  17. Humans and animals develop tolerance when their brain functions adapt to compensate for the disruption caused by alcohol in both their behavior and their bodily functions. This adaptation is called functional tolerance (2). Chronic heavy drinkers display functional tolerance when they show few obvious signs of intoxication even at high blood alcohol concentrations (BAC’s), which in others would be incapacitating or even fatal (3). Because the drinker does not experience significant behavioral impairment as a result of drinking, tolerance may facilitate the consumption of increasing amounts of alcohol.


  18. I asked I pilot that I know about this issue a couple of years ago. He said that if he discovered that a coworker was drunk, he would encourage the coworker to call in sick, and if the coworker didn’t he would report the incident. I found it an interesting way to balance protecting a colleague and protecting the passengers.

    The way he said it didn’t make it clear whether he had dealt with the issue in the past.

    I think that I would rather the incident was reported without giving the drunken pilot a chance to save his job.

  19. Have you ever seen salary men on the streets of Tokyo? I think in Japan heavy drinking after work is part of the culture. This FO may have drank heavily on his layover and had no time to sober up before his next leg. He should have called in sick.

    Agree that installing breathalyzer test at check in for duty is a good idea.

  20. “it’s almost never the other pilots who are reporting those who are drunk.” Are the other pilots drunk too or they just don’t care?


  21. Well done on the bus driver. Hopefully the crew would have reported when they checked in to fly. Why not just breathalyze every captain/co-captain before they fly? Why would anyone have a problem with that sort of policy?

  22. Let me get this straight, this clown is 10 times over the limit and you want his excuse to make sense?
    I take it you have never tried to have a serious conversation with a drunk?

  23. Have you never been drunk before? I guarantee you wouldn’t notice I’m drunk if my blood alcohol level was only just above the driving limit…

  24. These events make incredible headlines, why don’t the thousands of drunk drivers make such headlines. In all of last year there were no Commercial airline deaths last year in the U.S.A . Still a 9/11 like event happens every month on American roads yes over 3000 people are killed by American drivers, How many of those lives lost were alcohol related that could have been saved by a shared ride home?
    In Memory of Mike Popp And Travis Cates. two fine Pilot Friends killed by a Drunk Driver, not a Pilot.

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