Question: why did the Police have to arrest an Inebriated JAL Pilot?

2 bottles off wine and a pitcher of beer-pilot in corner
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Japan Airlines Pilot 10 Times Over Legal Alcohol Limits

Consumed 2 Bottles of Wine and a Pitcher of Beer

“Passed” 1st test

Police called by Crew Bus Driver

A JAPAN AIRLINES co-pilot has pleaded guilty to being nearly 10 times over the legal limit for alcohol before he was scheduled to fly from London to Tokyo.

According to Japan’s NHK public television, Katsutoshi Jitsukawa admitted to being under the influence of alcohol before he was supposed to fly from Heathrow Airport in London to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Sunday. Metropolitan police said Jitsukawa, 42, had almost 10 times the legal limit of alcohol in his bloodstream when he was arrested.

The co-pilot pleaded guilty on Thursday at Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court. He had admitted to airline officials that he had drank two bottles of wine and a pitcher of beer the night before the flight. He has been ordered held until his Nov. 29 sentencing.

Japan Airlines flight JL44 was scheduled to depart about an hour after tests indicated Jitsukawa was intoxicated. According to CNN, Jitsukawa had 189 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood in his body. The legal limit for pilots is 20 mg. The limit for motorists in the United Kingdom is 80 mg. Internal rules of the airline also prohibit pilots from drinking within 12 hours of a flight.

alcohol statistics





Jitsukawa was suspected of being impaired after a driver of a crew bus smelled alcohol while Jitsukawa was taking a bus to the tarmac on Sunday. The driver then called police. When the test results came back, Jitsukawa was taken into custody. The flight, which was scheduled to have three pilots, was delayed for more than an hour and then took off with the two remaining pilots.

crew bus

Japan Airlines apologized for the incident at a news conference in Tokyo on Thursday, NHK reported. Airline officials said the preflight test did not detect alcohol on Jitsukawa’s breath. Officials suspect the co-pilot manipulated the test to hide his intoxication and are now going to change their method for testing pilots.

The airline also announced on Thursday that it will begin using a more advanced method of testing for alcohol levels in flight crews at international airports. The method is currently used in domestic airports, but the airline has not implemented it overseas yet. It hopes to have the new devices installed internationally by the end of the month.

alcohol detector

One example, not necessarily JAL’s





Following the incident, NHK reported that Japan’s transport ministry is planning to create standards for testing flight crews for alcohol before trips. Currently in Japan, airlines can create their own standards.

The transport ministry says it will present their plans for testing by the end of the year.




From an aviation safety perspective, this story missed the HEADLINE. As the JCAB acknowledged

“In the wake of a Japan Airlines pilot being detained by British authorities last month for being drunk, the transport ministry urged domestic airlines to ensure that flight crews comply with drinking rules. It also expressed intentions of having such rules tightened.

The case has placed pressure on Japanese regulators and airlines to prevent such an [sic] situation from recurring.

There have been many other cases where Japanese airline pilots have failed to board scheduled flights due to excessive alcohol consumption.

Such cases “cause delays (to flights) and bother passengers,” a ministry official said, calling for airlines to address the situation.”[1]

The incident of a pilot being inebriated, even at 189 mg, is sadly not an unusual occurrence.

Scrutiny of these facts by one concerned about aviation safety would identify two critical aspects of this case.

  1. The PIC, it is alleged, assisted the SIC in defeating the JAL preflight test. Perhaps, the captain justified his action by the fact that there was another cockpit crew member, but his deviation from safety procedure may have had later dire consequences. One of the most promising techniques for substance abuse and mental health issues is PEER INTERVENTION. In fact, the most successful program, HIMS, builds on the ability of fellow crew members to recognize symptoms and assist in getting help. This PIC’s decision to subvert the existing detection system, however interpersonally motivated, casts doubt on the expectations associated with a pilot-to-pilot link.


2.The person who intervened was the driver of the crew bus. In an historically hierarchical society, that was a great act of courage and he should be commended. It causes one to wonder why other JAL personnel did not stop this pilot from reporting for duty in an unfit condition. A ready room is a busy place and those working there are focused on important tasks. That said, the odor of anyone, who has consumed two bottles of wine and a pitcher of beer, can usually be detected beyond direct personal contact. The smell of liquor is not a usual scent in a ready room and even the whiff of it should alarm anyone there.

JAL has a proud safety history and promotes a culture in which everyone must contribute that that goal. It has a Safety Promotion Center and boasts a Safety Advisory Group (a fiction writer, a professor and three professors emeriti). Those symbols send messages, but this instance may call into question their real impact. Given the JCAB comment about the frequency of delays due to unfit pilots, it would be expected that the JAL safety pages would include comments on prevention and treatment.

The FAA and EASA have taken steps to address this safety risk; the JCAB might want to copy some of those regulatory actions.


[1] It is hard to believe that a safety official worried about delays and inconvenience to passengers. A more appropriate comment might be “concern about inebriated pilots’ flying!


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3 Comments on "Question: why did the Police have to arrest an Inebriated JAL Pilot?"

  1. o me it was a wonder he was able to stand.”

    High functioning alcoholics, as they are known in some quarters, are an interesting bunch. I attended a presentation by a retired pilot who was an alcoholic until just before he retired. He said he’d never missed a day’s work through sickness due to his alcoholism. Maybe through the odd coughs, colds and sinus problems, but never related to his drinking. He suspected many colleagues knew about his issues but they considered him to be “reliable” from an operational and safety viewpoint. He only voluntarily turned himself over for rehab when his personal life reached the point of suicide. His story is not atypical. This presentation was at an aviation medical symposium discussing such issues, pre-Germanwings, looking into pilot welfare issues such as drink and drugs and how to address them. This has thankfully progressed a lot in Europe recently although, once again, it took a major crash to spur the Authorities and airlines into action. The pilot unions, certainly BALPA, had been pressing for such a thing for over 15 years prior to Germanwings. (“Tombstone Regulation”, I think they call it).

    I discussed the issue of alcoholic pilots at some length with one of the RAF Institute of Aviation Medicine’s top vestibular scientists, also a doctor, several years ago. We were talking generally about human balance, orientation and the complex workings of the inner ear, as we do in these circles. Or even semicircles. (OK, an in-joke maybe) He inadvertently gave me a lesson in vestibular physiology which I found fascinating and it helps answer BKL’s question below on balance issues witnessed in habitual drunks, which I confess I had not considered scientifically before. Apparently one of the reasons we lose our balance and can feel sick when drunk, as well as during the morning after, is related to the relative densities of the fluids in the body, especially the more enclosed fluid (endolymph) in the semi-circular canals. Apparently the system is so sensitive to even the most minor changes in the density of the endolymph that if its density does change, even by a very small amount, the system effectively loses its calibration. This causes the balance problems. Alcohol permeates from the bloodstream and body tissues into the endolymph relatively slowly, so when sufficient alcohol is drunk a small change in the density of the endolymph occurs over time and the balance organs start to struggle. The next morning this imbalance can still exist, so whilst you may pass a blood alcohol or breath test owing to most of the alcohol having been metabolised, exhaled, or expelled in other ways, your balance organs are still suffering from their own “hangover” whilst waiting for the alcohol still present in the endolymph to slowly seep out, which it eventually will do to reach equilibrium with the rest of the body. This will then allow the balance system to resume its original calibration and all is well with the world again. Until the next session in the bar, that is.

    In the case of the permanent alcoholic, their body fluids and blood stream will always contain a high level of alcohol. This slowly seeps into the endolymph of the inner ear in the first stages of drinking and cause the usual balance upsets. Over time, though, the density of the endolymph becomes almost permanently altered and always contains a higher level of alcohol, which is in equilibrium with the rest of the habitual drinker’s body fluids. The whole system eventually recalibrates and normal balance can be restored. So as long as the person remains an alcoholic all is more or less well in their world of balance. The alcoholic’s balance problems will only start again when he “dries out”. Then the process is slowly reversed, ie by staying sober the alcoholic’s blood an tissue alcohol levels will drop to zero but there is a finite time before the endolymph can “catch up” and then it has to re-calibrate itself back to pre-drinking levels. Hence the alcoholic feels worse, balance wise, when he’s sobering up and needs considerable support, both emotional and some physical, to see him through this difficult phase.

    I think that’s more or less how it was explained to me. If anyone looks this up and finds out these theories are now rubbished, please let me know. There’s plenty written out there about the effects of alcohol on the nervous system and the damage it can cause, particularly related to the cerebellum, but they don’t answer the question about how some alcoholics can carry out high functioning tasks for many years without discovery.

    Simon Brown from Mifnet

  2. Drunk JAL 1st officer exposes Japan’s pilot drinking problem

  3. Pilot Grounded Before Delhi-London 787 Flight for Failing Booze Test
    By: Anurag Kotoky and Bibhudatta Pradhan | Nov 12 2018 at 03:43 AM | Air Cargo News
    India’s aviation regulator pulled a pilot scheduled to fly the Delhi-London route for the nation’s flag carrier after he failed an alcohol test about an hour before the flight.
    The Directorate General of Civil Aviation said in a statement Monday that the Air India pilot tested positive on a breath analyzer test on Sunday, following which it suspended his license for three years “as per the provisions of applicable regulations.”
    Arvind Kathpalia, the pilot, also serves on the board of directors of the state-owned airline and is in charge of its overall flight operations. A representative for Air India declined to comment.

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