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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
- 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.
 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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