Taiwanese carrier fires pilot who failed alcohol test taken before flight to Hong Kong

China Airlines says other pilots flew the jet instead, and it will conduct testing on all pilots

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2017, 4:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2017, 11:20pm

Taiwan’s China Airlines has ­decided to sack a pilot who failed an alcohol test before stepping into the cockpit to operate a flight from Taichung to Hong Kong.

The Flight AE1817, operated by China Airlines subsidiary Mandarin Airlines, was delayed for two hours because of the incident at lunchtime on Tuesday.

China Airlines said it would carry out company-wide alcohol tests on its pilots. It did not specify if this would involve only Mandarin Airlines or the entire parent company, or whether it was an indication of a wider problem.

“On April 4, on flight AE1817 from Taichung to Hong Kong, the pilot did not pass an alcohol test before flying,” the airline said in a statement. “The same flight was then operated by other pilots. The pilot in question was suspended immediately from duty and will be fired. The company will carry out alcohol tests on all pilots.”

According to Taiwan media reports citing the island’s Civil Aeronautics Administration, which governs flight regulation and safety, the pilot’s breath-alcohol reading was 3 micrograms per 100 millilitres in the first test, and 2.8mcg/100ml in the second round of testing. The legal limit for pilots is 2mcg/100ml. By comparison, the legal limit for Hong Kong drivers is 22mcg/100ml.

Cathay Pacific Airways pilot David Newbery, president of the Hong Kong Airline Pilots Association, said: “Pilot alcohol test failings are not a big problem in the region. It is not a major problem in the world.

“In instances where there are accident reports ... that the pilot has been under the influence of alcohol is extremely rare.

“The only time it tends to come up is in private flying, not commercial flying.”

Airlines in Hong Kong are responsible for their own random alcohol and drug tests, in keeping with Civil Aviation Department regulations.

Newbery, in his three decades of experience as a pilot, could not recall any case of a city-based pilot failing a breathalyser test.

“People, pilots, who have problems with alcohol we consider they have an illness,” he said. “They’re not criminals but as soon as you cross the line to being on duty, you’re committing a criminal offence and not a lot can help you, frankly.”