Japan Introduces Zero Alcohol Rule For Pilots Following Incident

Filed Under: Japan Airlines

Recently a Japan Airlines pilot arrived for work at London Heathrow to operate a flight to Tokyo with a blood alcohol level of 0.18, which was almost ten times over the allowed limit of 0.02 for pilots operating flights from the UK.

Fortunately the hotel bus driver (who was driving the crew from the hotel to the airport) smelled the alcohol on the pilot’s breath and reported him.

This incident has already had some interesting consequences:

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

The latest in this story is that Japanese media is reporting that domestic pilots in Japan will no longer be allowed to fly if they have any alcohol in their system at all.

This is as a result of new guidelines set by the Japanese transport ministry ‘in consultation with experts,’ and I imagine involved Japan Airlines staying true to their word that they would ‘take action’ to stop this from happening again.

These new rules will be implemented by the end of March next year, and will be among the strictest in the world for pilots.

Before these new measures, Japan (the country), did not require airlines to set blood alcohol limits for pilots, nor did they require airlines to breath test pilots before flying, either randomly or compulsorily.

JAL and ANA could previously set their own alcohol limits, and testing procedures. But the new regulations mean that if the test shows any alcohol in their system, for domestic flights at least, they will not be allowed to fly.

The Japanese Transport Ministry has said what I have always thought, that ‘it is inappropriate for someone with any alcohol in their system to operate aircraft carrying passengers.’

Bottom line

I remain surprised that any pilots are allowed any alcohol in their system when they arrive for work and hundreds of passengers’ lives are placed in their hands.

I hope these new regulations will both be extended to international pilots in Japan, as well as to other countries.

I would much rather know the pilot flying my plane has passed a 0% alcohol test before I board, rather than just hoping they are under a limit!

Do you think pilots should be allowed to fly with alcohol in their system?

  1. Sad that this doesn’t already exist all over the world. Pilots should not be drinking during/close to work time. If you want to drink constantly, being a pilot isn’t the job for you.

    Hopefully, we see this zero-alcohol rule implemented worldwide.

  2. No story here. I personally don’t mind if my pilot is a little drunk. The planes practically fly themselves and if a situation occurs, the pilot will be more than likely to respond better tipsy than sober. Nerves kick in and people tend to lock up when sober.

    I actually think they should bring back smoking on planes. The good old days are really missed by all.

  3. This is a fantastic idea…pilots should all show up ready to work and that should include no alcohol. @johnredwalker sure, planes fly themselves. But when a sensor is bad and causes problems I want a pilot ready and able to fix the issue or salvage the plane in an emergency. Is it too much to ask that pilots are ready to perform their jobs?

  4. I never drink even a sip of alcohol before I drive a car because I don’t know the effects even a small amount of alcohol would have on a breathalyzer for my 114 pound body and a DUI would really mess up my life in a very big way. Similarly, why would any commercial airline pilot risk his license, life, freedom, and livelihood for a drink while on a trip? I’m sure these alcohol incidents aren’t widespread but I’m surprised it happens as often as it does given the severity of the potential outcomes. This is a good policy and other airlines should follow it.

  5. I wonder what the limit of detection is on the meters that will be used. I totally support the idea of pilots having no alcohol in their system. However, I’d hate to torpedo some pilot’s career and livelihood because a meter was flickering between 0 and the smallest nonzero reading. I hope that the smallest positive reading is measurably, reproducibly, significantly different from zero.

  6. @debit – good call! Let your hair down a little! I can hear the stories now…’remember the time I made this huge error at work? Wow, that was really something!’ Now change the story for a pilot’s experiences making a mistake and you’ve got a really great story to tell your grandkids. Remember back when I nearly landed on an active taxiway? That was nearly an enormous fireball!

    So you drink before you go to work, before you drive, before you need to do something really important, just in the name of a good story. Let me know when you’re on the road so I can stay far away from you.

  7. What about the presence of alcohol in the pilot’s system from cough syrup or other similar OTC cold products that are used for even the mildest of a cold or a cough?

  8. I used to work in casino in Las Vegas that had a breathalyzer machine near the parking garage entrance. I think it was a quarter, the machine would dispense a fresh straw and you would blow to see if you were over the limit to drive. Make all pilots blow before they take controls, it’s cheap, accurate and easy. Make a gate agent and flight attendant witness it. There is no legit reason to oppose this idea.

  9. Daryl,

    Yes,many OTC medicines have some alcohol in them, which i think is why zero is not a realistic limit. There was nothing wrong with JAL’s 0.2 limit, Rather the problem was that it was significantly exceeded.

  10. In the US the limit for airline pilots is 0.02% and typically airlines have a 10 hour “bottle to throttle” rule. I think this is a bit more reasonable as one could blow 0.01% just from using mouth wash.

  11. It’s really irresponsible for any pilot to drink before flying thus putting hundreds of people’s safety at risk. Pilots really should be in tiptop shape while working. Most of us have jobs that if we make a mistake, it doesn’t kill anyone. But commercial pilots, on the other hand, have much higher responsibility. If they want this job, they need to be held to a higher standard. No alcohol in their body seems like a fair request to me.

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