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JAL pilot gets 10-mth prison term over heavy drinking before flight

A British court sentenced a Japan Airlines co-pilot to 10 months in prison on Thursday over heavy drinking before flight duty in October.

Katsutoshi Jitsukawa, 42, has admitted to the charge of drinking at a level that greatly exceeds the country’s legal limit for on-duty aviation personnel.

In handing down the ruling, Judge Phillip Matthews said, «The safety of all persons onboard that very long flight…was put at risk by your inebriation.»

«The prospect of you taking control of that aircraft is too appalling to contemplate. The potential consequence for those onboard if you did so was catastrophic,» he added.

Piloting aircraft under the influence of alcohol is regarded as a serious offense in Britain. A British Airways pilot was sentenced to eight months in prison in August after he was found to have alcohol exceeding the legal limit in his system.

In a statement issued after the ruling, Japan Airlines Co. expressed deep regret at Jitsukawa’s deeds and the company’s failure to supervise him, saying, «We will take thorough measures to prevent a recurrence of a case like this.»

Jitsukawa had been due to be part of a flight crew of JL44 to Tokyo from London on Oct. 28 but was arrested by British police for being around 10 times over the legal limit.

According to Japan Airlines, Jitsukawa has said he drank two bottles of wine and more than 1.8 liters of beer over six hours from 6 p.m. the night before his flight. He cheated a pre-flight alcohol test administered at the airline’s office and briefly boarded the plane.

But a bus driver who transported crew to the airplane noticed the smell of alcohol and alerted airport security officials.

Jitsukawa used mouthwash before the arrival of police officers and told security officials he had not been drinking.

Breath and blood tests by police confirmed that alcohol levels in his system exceeded the legal limit, about 10-fold and ninefold respectively, with his arrest delaying the flight by 69 minutes and leaving the airline to operate the flight with two pilots rather than the planned three.

Recently, a series of problems involving drinking by flight crew of airlines in Japan that disrupted flight schedules have come to light, prompting the government to consider implementing tighter alcohol consumption rules for aviation crew members.

Under the current Japanese system, aviation crew members are prohibited from drinking within eight hours of starting work but there is no law or regulation that sets a legal limit for alcohol consumption.

Britain’s transportation safety law sets a legal limit of alcohol for personnel involved in aviation activities including flight crew, cabin crew and air traffic controllers as 20 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood except for licensed aircraft engineers, according to Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority.

Violators of the law can face penalties of a prison term of up to two years and/or fines.

All — Kyodo News+

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