National

JAL hit by business improvement order over drunk pilot; flight attendant fails Breathalyzer test

Kyodo

The transport ministry issued a business improvement order to Japan Airlines Co. on Friday over a pilot who was convicted in the U.K. for heavy drinking that delayed the start of a London-Tokyo flight.

The order, the third most serious reprimand after business license revocation and business suspension orders, was issued after a JAL co-pilot was given a 10-month sentence in the U.K. for having a blood-alcohol level about 10 times higher than the legal limit before boarding the flight in October. He has since been dismissed.

“We’re really sorry for customers who trust and board our flights. We will take drastic measures to address the issue,” said JAL President Yuji Akasaka after receiving the order.

The ministry also issued warnings to four other airlines — All Nippon Airways Co., ANA Wings Co., Skymark Airlines Inc. and Japan Air Commuter Co. — that were found to have issues involving excessive pilot drinking, and instructed them, along with JAL, to report back by Jan. 18 on new steps to prevent similar incidents.

In the wake of a number of drinking-related incidents that have led to flight disruptions, the ministry has decided to mandate alcohol tests for pilots and set legal limits. Under the current system, flight crews are prohibited from drinking within eight hours of starting work, but there is no legal limit for alcohol consumption and breath tests are not required.

JAL has separately compiled its own preventive measures, including expanding its drinking ban before flight duty to 24 hours from 12 hours, and has decided to take disciplinary action against its executives and others.

The airline last received a business improvement order in 2005 for a series of serious incidents that included failure to comply with flight control instructions, according to the ministry.

Meanwhile, JAL said Thursday a high level of alcohol was detected in a Breathalyzer test taken by one of its female flight attendants earlier in the week, though she denied drinking any alcohol before duty.

Alcohol was not detected in a test she took before boarding a flight from Narita airport to Honolulu on Monday, but two other cabin crew noticed her breath smelled of alcohol and had her take another test, JAL said.

The second test detected 0.15 milligrams of alcohol in her breath, exceeding the 0.10-mg limit set by JAL for its pilots, but the 46-year-old crew member said she had not drunk any alcohol since Friday and repeatedly used mouthwash during the flight, according to the airline. The airline said it will continue to investigate the matter.

JAL does not currently have specific rules for drinking by flight attendants but said after the London incident that it plans to introduce tests for them as well as engineers.

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