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BA Pilots Drinking On The Job?

Thu Oct 05, 2000 5:53 am

From the Financial Times:

British Airways has taken 11 pilots and three cabin crew off flying duties following allegations that they had been drinking alcohol before flying aircraft back to London's Gatwick airport from other cities in Europe.

David Hyde, BA director of safety, said on Wednesday night that the airline had launched a formal investigation and had notified the UK's Civil Aviation Authority of the allegations and the actions it was taking.

The allegations about excessive drinking are contained in a Channel Four Dispatches documentary to be shown on October 12, although the programme will be given a press preview on Thursday.

BA said it had started the investigation in response to allegations that the pilots and crew members had breached its regulations governing alcohol consumption before a flight.

If the allegations are proven, it will be a heavy blow to the airline's reputation, which has been hit both by its plunging financial fortunes and problems with staff morale.

An important factor behind the ousting of Robert Ayling as chief executive and his replacement by Rod Eddington in the spring was boardroom concern about low staff morale and its impact on levels of customer service.

Mr Hyde said the allegations of excessive drinking covered a period from March to August this year. The airline had been "surprised by the extent and degree of the allegations and the number of people involved".

Previously there had been "only very, very occasional single incidents" and only a couple had led to staff dismissals. "This is a very, very unusual incident," he said.

Under the airline's rules, crew members are not allowed to consume any alcohol during the 8 hours before reporting for duty, and they are only allowed to drink in moderation (defined as no more than five units of alcohol) in the 24 hours before starting work.

There should be no residual alcohol in the bloodstream when they report for duty.

BA has about 3,500 pilots and 14,000 cabin crew employed in its mainline operations.

About 20 per cent of BA shorthaul aircraft were away from their home base over night, he said.

The British Air Line Pilots Association, the pilots' union, said on Wednesday night that the television programme had been built around scenes filming a former BA stewardess drinking with crew members.

Christopher Darke, Balpa general secretary, attacked Channel Four for having failed to raise the allegations earlier and for "its underhand and disgraceful journalistic methods, which could be described as entrapment.

"They chose deliberately and calculatedly to withhold this information from both the Civil Aviation Authority and the crews' airline British Airways for nearly eight months. If they had hard evidence they should have raised it straight away with the appropriate authorities in the public interest and to allow proper investigations."

Balpa said the programme showed every sign of being "rigged from the start".

Mr Darke said Channel Four had used "ex-cabin crew members to befriend, entice, and entrap flight crew and cabin crew, then filmed them secretly without their knowledge or consent".

He said the programme had "levelled very grave allegations" and had not provided the evidence to support them".

BA said it had asked Channel Four to hand over any evidence to assist the investigation "as a matter or urgency", but it had still received nothing more than the original allegations contained in a two-sheet letter sent last Friday.

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Even if they were "entrapped", I'm not sure that is a valid excuse for potentially putting people's lives at risk.

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