Singapore Airlines Flight Cancelled After Pilot Fails Blood Alcohol Test

Filed Under: Singapore

As you might imagine, there are very strict rules around alcohol (and other drug) use for staff operating flights. Each airline or local aviation authority may have a slightly different rule for the blood alcohol allowed in a pilot or cabin crew members system in order for them to be fit to fly.

Pilots and cabin crew are randomly breath tested from time to time when they report for duty.

SQ247/248

The Australian newspaper is reporting that last Saturday, Singapore Airlines flight SQ247 from Melbourne to Wellington, scheduled to depart at 7:00am was cancelled, because the Boeing 777 Captain operating the flight failed a random blood alcohol test conducted by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

CASA has confirmed an airline crew member failed a test over the weekend.

For any airline operating flights from Australia (that falls under CASA’s reach), that limit is 0.02%. Airlines have a ‘bottle to throttle’ rule as a guide to help their crew with their alcohol consumption. This is a guide as to how many hours crew should allow between their last drink and the time they report for duty.

Singapore Airlines has a ‘bottle to throttle’ rule of eight hours, so the captain should have stopped drinking eight hours earlier.

Either he did not, or he drank a HUGE amount the night before.

As a guide, the legal level of blood alcohol to drive a car in Australia (where the incident took place) is 0.05%.

This is a fifth freedom route for Singapore Airlines between Australia and New Zealand. The flight commences in Singapore, then flies to Melbourne, onto Wellington and then does the reverse.

As Melbourne is an outstation for Singapore Airlines, they could not locate an alternate captain to operate the flight, so SQ247 (and the following SQ248 from Wellington to Melbourne) was cancelled.

Passengers on the cancelled flight were initially told the pilot was ‘sick’.

Singapore Airlines have only said of the incident:

We will work closely with the Australian and Singaporean authorities to ensure they are supplied the information they require. We sincerely apologise to those affected by the cancellation of these flights. However the safety of our customers and crew is our highest priority.

Understandably the consequences for the pilot are likely to be very severe. He has been immediately suspended and there is a good chance he will never fly again.

Bottom line

CASA have revealed they have tested 12,130 test on airline pilots and crew in the last financial year and that of those tested, five recorded positive results for drugs, and a further three for alcohol. That means that more than 99.9% of flight crew pass the test.

I used to love watching the British trash/soap TV show ‘Mile High’ which dramatised the daily lives of a fictional short haul discount airline based in the UK. To say both the pilots and cabin crew drank heavily (and took drugs) while ‘down route’ is an understatement.

So, it happens.

But for a captain for an airline as prestigious as Singapore Airlines to make such a grave error is pretty crazy.

Have you ever had a flight cancelled because of a mystery crew illness?

Comments
  1. Crazy.. I did my commercial flight training in Melbourne and the ‘Bottle to Throttle times were drilled into us throughout training but that said wouldn’t even risk it by drinking at all before a flight day. I was randomly tested once at Moorabbin airport and always felt CASA were pretty on the ball and very glad they stopped this case so it reinforces any flight crew not to take the risk for safety of the passengers and also their careers… Can’t help but feel that if they were foreign crew perhaps they didn’t feel the urgency of the rules as much?…(ref Chinese flight crew smoking incident)
    Well written piece James! Kudos

  2. So you pluck a stock photo from the other side of the world, Manchester…

    What happened to diligent journalism?

  3. James, a follow-up question. Now that it is clear the reason for the cancellation is Singapore required to compensate their passengers for the inconvenience? Was the airline trying to avoid this by saying “sick” vs. “failed a random drug test?”

  4. “Meanwhile mainland chinese airlines allow their pilots to smoke in-flight…” -chub

    Smoking doesn’t impair your ability to fly. Alcohol does. Please don’t hijack this article with your nonsense and complain somewhere else.

  5. @James, I’m curious to know whether or not this would be covered by CC trip protection. Also, if this flight had taken place in the EU, would it be eligible for compensation under EU261? Finally, what are the requirements for cabin crew BAC?

  6. @ Mike – I use stock photos from the OMAAT photo library which are mostly from Ben’s trip reports.

    I couldn’t find a photo of an SQ 777 in MEL

  7. @ Tennen – it would depend on the wording of the CC insurance policy but this was a cancellation within the airlines control so I would expect most policies to cover this.

  8. I’ve been delayed only once by (what I found out later to be) a FA who showed up impaired. Fortunately, it was an AA international flight out of PHL, a hub for AA, and they were quickly able to get another crew member. Hard to believe any crew member would risk their careers in this manner.

  9. Great articles always on this site. I always have to laugh a little bit at the people who make comments about correcting some minor typo or who do as Mike did and have to point out that the picture wasn’t of THE flight or A flight from Melbourne. The whole point of the article is that the pilot failed the test and he was from Singapore Airlines. My guess is that the champagne and chicken were not from that flight either and probably not on a flight from Melbourne at all! Who cares!

    This is an amazing site that points out great deals and teaches how to save thousands a year on travel. Advice that I and many others have benefitted from tremendously at no charge. Thanks for what you do!

  10. @steve – foreign crew eh? When in doubt, just blame’em foreigners!

    What about when Qantas pilots fly when drunk? Were they drinking with foreigners?

    QF Santiago 2016: https://www.smh.com.au/business/workplace/drunk-and-stoned-qantas-pilot-loses-bid-to-appeal-ruling-20160504-golvcj.html

    QF Brisbane 2012:
    https://www.news.com.au/national/queensland/qantas-investigating-pilot-allegedly-drunk-on-flight-bound-for-brisbane/news-story/faa9b5b5e582d3511b094db0a8e6ccd8

  11. Donna – Is it? I can think of loads of reasons why someone would risk their career. Humans can be very irrational creatures.

    James – Not quite sure why you’re using a dramatized fictional programme to demonstrate that flight crew can drink a lot!? They’re human so I don’t doubt many of them do, but Mile High is hardly a documentary!

  12. @Vinn

    I’m a Portuguese national so was a foreigner in Australia myself during my training. I’m simply saying that I found the checks to be quite frequent while I trained in Australia and that’s a good thing. It’s very known within this industry and I’m sure many other that many cultures adapt different small cultural acceptors (to the dismay of regulators and Threat and Human Error management) to attempt to stamp out these things globally for safety such as the command/respect issues in Korea between older (ex military for eg) and younger flight crew.

    Thanks for sharing these articles

  13. @Henry
    Then explain the Air China incident from a few months ago. I would love to hear your opinion on what caused it

    And even if smoking pilots does not impair the ability to fly, they’re still annoying nevertheless. There are complaints of smoking pilots on China Eastern from many bloggers (including Lucky here and Matthew from live and let’s fly)

    Whenever OMAAT hires new people again, I’m looking forward for you to be in. Can’t wait to see you’re content! (/s)

  14. I work in Mining and we have a 0.00% limit for blood alcohol, Also we get tested before each shift. Mind you this is a much more dangerous industry with multiple fatalities each year.
    The term used is “Fit for work” and is based on fatigue, alcohol use etc it covers a broader range of things that affect ones fitness for work.
    So say if we had a big night drinking before work and was worried about registering a positive test we would call up and say “Not fit for work” vs being “sick” A few days a year can be wrote off on this without to much scrutiny.

  15. It’s probably just a miscalculation on his part ; maybe the alcohol didn’t clear his system quickly enough. It’s not as though he turned up to fly while drunk but rather with detectable alcohol. The suggestion that he should be fired/banned for life is way too harsh. There should be a serious penalty, for sure, but not terminal.

  16. @Paolo: You have to suck really bad at calculations if you fail the test. It’s not really rocket science. Either the pilot drank way too much until 8hrs before the flight, at which point his BAC can’t go down far enough in the 8 hrs window, or the pilot drank within the 8hrs in which he isn’t supposed to drink. In most countries, failing an alcohol test as a pilot is a severe criminal offence and – rightly – punished as such.

  17. I just hate “random test”.

    In 2018, these test are cheap and easily available. They should be mandatory not just random.

    For any airline operating flights from Australia (that falls under CASA’s reach), that limit is “0.02%”
    Again for a professional, this should be 0.00000%. Same excuse as just the tip won’t get you pregnant/STD. Highly unlikely, it still can.

  18. Couple of remarks on this topic.
    Indulging in a drink or two was common occurrence in the cockpit until the ninthies .

    While the rules are stated 8 hours from bottle to throttle observing these rules does not guarantee that BAC after 8 hours will go down to below detectable. There are several factors that can affect the clearance time. Heavy fatty meal can can slow down alcohol absorption from the gut and extend time to metabolize. Genetic enzyme abnolities, liver disease, diabetes can affect results of the test.

    Finally, flying hangovered maybe way more dangerous than having small amounts of alcohol in the system.

    Finally, these marveles machines practically fly themselves and it’s quite likely that the need for pilots on deck can be shortly eliminated. While this may sound frightening to flying public the future is almost here.

  19. @Rafa

    You make a very good point about the dangers of hangover. But you missed one thing, you really need to spike that BAC to get a hangover. This excuse is just a good indicator of the need to make friends with Bill. “I can’t stop drinking because hangovers are dangerous, if I’m drunk all the time I will never get a hangover. 🙂

  20. Agree with Callum.

    Mile High was fun to watch… but there’s no relevance to use a piece of TV fiction as a comparator to a news story.

  21. I think it’s best not to judge unmtil facts are present. Alcoholism is a sickness despite all the haters and judgmental jerks on this site who display no empathy for this captain…. we’re all human beings after all…… have a little deference

  22. What was the threshold? A 0.02?Certain medical conditions (diabetes) and drugs can cause a fluctuation of at LEAST 0.02 especially if the breathalyzer in question hasn’t been calibrated recently. Hopefully they don’t crucify the pilot before they look at everything.

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