Alcohol testing in the air – should your pilot be in the cockpit?


Would you hop on an airplane if you knew the pilot had been drinking alcohol? You might be surprised to hear that while it’s not common, it’s certainly not unheard of for a pilot to fail alcohol testing, and, as discussed in a recent article, sometimes the circumstances can be quite alarming.

For example, the article highlights the case of a British Airways flight that was about to depart from Gatwick in England and fly to Mauritius. Thankfully, someone on the crew felt that something wasn’t right with the pilot and alerted authorities. The pilot failed alcohol testing and was arrested. While the flight was late, we’re sure the passengers who knew the reasons behind the delay were happy to wait!

In other examples, in 2016 a pilot was removed from a United Airlines flight when security staff smelt alcohol on the pilot’s breath. Alcohol testing proved the security staff were correct to be concerned, as he was two times over the blood alcohol limit. In 2002, both pilots on an America West Airlines flight failed alcohol testing shortly before taxiing their airplane. They were found guilty and convicted of operating an aircraft under the influence of alcohol.

Drunk pilots have also caused fatal crashes, including proven cases involving pilots in the last 7 years.

Before you cancel your next flights, however, relax. Alcohol testing figures and other research shows that very few pilots fly while under the influence of alcohol. For example, in the United States, alcohol testing results from nearly 12,500 pilots in 2015 found only 10 with a positive alcohol test results.

Alcohol limits

As the article highlights, alcohol limits are not uniform globally. In the UK, for example, pilots are allowed a small amount of alcohol in their system, one-quarter of the blood alcohol limit imposed on UK drivers. In other countries, such as India, zero blood alcohol level is required.

Is alcohol testing of pilots common?

Alcohol testing regimens also vary from country to country. In some countries, alcohol testing of pilots is only conducted when a pilot is under suspicion. However, in other countries, pilots are subjected to random alcohol testing regularly.

The penalties for pilots who fail alcohol testing also varies and is at the discretion of the airline and the jurisdiction in the country where the offence occurred. Suspension is a common penalty, however, in some cases pilots have been jailed after failing alcohol testing.

Alcohol testing of pilots shows that very few fly over the limit

Alcohol testing of pilots shows that very few fly over the limit. Credit Paul Hurkmans.

By Michael

Michael is the founder of Integrity Sampling and is responsible for overseeing all national operations. He is based at Integrity Sampling's head office in Melbourne and is also responsible for the co-ordination of drug and alcohol testing within Victoria, assisting in the implementation of drug and alcohol (fit for work) policies and the presentation of drug and alcohol education and awareness programs. You can connect with Michael Wheeldon on LinkedIn

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