Alcohol and flying... subject comes up every 18 months or so in the UK whenever something like this happens.
I do believe personally that not enough is done (in the UK at least) to ensure adherence to the alcohol laws when it comes to aircrew, all of whom perform safety-critical functions in the way Gordon described.
Naming no names or airlines, I know pilots (B757) who have been under the influence whilst flying, and I know of some senior Captains in airlines whose attitude is to brush it under the carpet and hope no-one notices. Slap on the wrists and "Don't let it happen again Joe"....
Whilst I can never prove it now, I myself have flown with a Captain whom I considered "under the influence". Did I challenge him? No. Should I have? Damn right. But life for a 700 hour First Officer sat alongside a man with far more seniority and experience is just not that simple. A young whisleblower could soon become "surplus to requirements".
Does that excuse the potential risk to safety for those passengers that day? Absolutely not. When I recall the situation now my cowardly reaction disgusts me. Today my attitude faced with the same situation would certainly not be so ignorant.
Gordon raises an interesting point regarding attitudes to drinking and driving, and those to flying and driving.
Have I ever been on flight duty myself, above the legal alcohol limit? Certainly not, not knowingly anyway.
Have I ever got into a car and driven above the legal alcohol limit? Let's be honest... sadly, I probably have. That dinner party with friends on a Friday night when we couldn't be bothered to order a taxi... that glass of wine with dinner which, when topped up, ended up being a couple of large glasses. Oh... and that beer I accepted when we arrived too...
Often these thoughts are made in hindsight, was I over the limit? Doesn't matter now... didn't get stopped. The wrong attitude entirely I know, but nonetheless the most common one.
This is a completely different mentality than that I apply to alcohol and flight duty which is 8 hours (legal limit) plus a sensible timescale when larger than normal amounts have been consumed (my current airline makes no recommendation but at my previous airline they recommended extension of the 8 hours to 24 hours whenever significant quantities had been consumed).
I will have a glass of red wine with dinner, or maybe a beer in front of the TV
the evening before a morning flight - sure, but absolutely no more. We are talking a good 10 hours prior to duty here, as I tend to plan for at least 8 hours sleep before morning flights anyway.
There is no way on earth that I will go out drinking heavy quantities until the early hours before a morning flight, even if an 8 hour gap still existed.
With regard to consumption of "small amounts" and flying, an interesting study was conducted some time ago by the UK CAA in a Simulator with just normal line operations simulated (no emergencies) and a standard 2 man crew.
Various crews were tested with differing levels of alcohol in their system, and comparison was made with their "sober" operation.
Astoundingly, the test revealed that even with half
the legal UK drink-drive limit, a significant increase in errors was made by the crews even in the most simple tasks
Drinking and flying? Limit should be zero, I agree. Remember "zero" is recordable
here, if you consume alcohol there will actually be traces of it in your system for 3 days.
Returning to my original comments, the attitude in the UK remains unacceptable. In Amsterdam you can be spot checked on the flightdeck by inspectors with a breathalyser, Norway seems the same. A pro-active approach to be commended, surely?
In 4 years of flying airliners in the UK, I have yet to have my blood alcohol levels tested. Is it not about time we got a bit more tough about this?
Or shall we brush it under the carpet and let people forget.... for another 18 months at least.
I used to love the smell of Jet-A in the morning...