PRESSURE is mounting for the introduction of random breath testing for pilots after the captain of a long-haul jet with 350 passengers on board was arrested for being drunk shortly before take-off.
The 51-year-old pilot was breathalysed and found to be over the alcohol limit as he prepared to fly a Boeing 747 4,000 miles from Britain to Pakistan. It is the latest in a series of cases in which commercial pilots have been found under the influence of alcohol while on duty.
The Tories yesterday called for compulsory random breath tests, which are already carried out voluntarily by most train companies - and some airlines.
The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) favours the current system of self- regulation but aviation insiders say that position is increasingly untenable amid growing concern from passengers.
Last month an EasyJet pilot was suspended after being found more than four times the limit as she prepared to fly an Airbus 319 from Berlin to Basel in Switzerland. In December, a pilot with the Finnish national airline Finnair was jailed for six months for trying to fly a passenger jet from Manchester airport while drunk.
The most recent arrest, also at Manchester, was made on Saturday while a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) pilot, Imran Aziz, was arrested on the flight deck of the Boeing 747, which was due to depart for Lahore at 10.40am. It is understood police breathalysed him after a tip-off. He was released on bail until 24 March.
Breath tests for cabin crew, pilots and aircraft maintenance staff were introduced a year ago under laws which also cover commercial shipping crews and rail workers. The legal limit for pilots in Britain is 20mg of alcohol for every 100ml of blood - four times stricter than the limit for drivers. Punishments include fines of up to 5,000 and up to two years in jail.
Virgin Atlantic carries out random tests on its own crews but British Airways cannot follow suit unless it reaches an agreement with BALPA.
A spokesman for BALPA said: "We believe in the existing peer intervention programme, where flight crews refer colleagues they suspect of being in breach of the law to the authorities."
But an air industry insider said: "Pilots are beginning to realise they are not the only highly trained professionals for whom self-regulation doesn’t reassure the public."
Tim Yeo, shadow secretary of state for transport, said: "We think compulsory random breath testing for pilots should be introduced."