Pilots on the pop

By Anna Sandiford 04/03/2010

Air New Zealand pilots having drinking problems, eh? Doesn’t really instill a sense of safety in us air travellers. It was interesting to hear the CEO say that if pilots have a drink (or drug) problem then they should go to Air New Zealand and ask for help rather than keep it covered up. Personally, I think it unlikely that an employee is going to approach its employer and ask for help with a problem that could cause them to be fired.
All of that aside, I am interested to know whether or not the government would consider establishing a drink-fly limit for pilots and crew, as is in place in other countries. The breath testing equipment is available that can detect breath alcohol levels lower than the mandatory UK limit for flying a plane of 90 micrograms of alcohol per litre breath (such as lionlaboratories.com) – compare that with the NZ/UK drink driving limit for adults of 400 micrograms of alcohol/litre breath [the blood equivalent being 20 milligrams alcohol/100 ml blood for flying compared with 80 in blood for driving a motor vehicle]. Catching pilots over the limit for flying but below the legal limit for driving has occurred and in one of the most recent cases the pilot was given a suspended sentence for having a breath alcohol level of 310 micrograms of alcohol per litre breath. When the blood test was done, the pilot’s blood alcohol level was 50 mg alcohol/100 ml blood. This is a level capable of causing impairment. Blood alcohol levels in the range of 30 to 120 can cause effects including mild euphoria, sociability, talkativeness, increased confidence, decreased inhibitions, reduced attention and judgment, some sensory-motor impairment, reduced rate of information processing. Although these effects cover a range of blood alcohol levels, the most appropriate approach might be to avoid the chances of any pilot experiencing any of these effects by introduction of an appropriate breath/blood alcohol limit for flying.

Presumably Air New Zealand may look at the sponsorship of the Wine Awards?