Drunk United Airlines pilot pulled off flight at Heathrow

Hotel News - 12/11/2009

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A pilot for the American carrier United Airlines was pulled from a plane at Heathrow airport shortly before takeoff. A member of the airline’s staff had suspected he was impaired and had alerted authorities, officials said Tuesday.

The pilot, Erwin Vermont Washington, subsequently failed a breathalyser test and was stopped from carrying on with his flight which was scheduled to fly 135 passengers to Chicago. The 51-year-old man was originally in charge of the transatlantic connection. He had been seen arriving at Terminal 1 at Heathrow airport several hours before the scheduled flight.

Metropolitan Police authorities said Mr Washington was later released on bail after being arrested and briefly detained.

The pilot was normally due to fly a Boeing 767 for United Airlines Flight 949, which was scheduled for a 12.05pm take-off and bound for Chicago’s O’Hare airport.

The124 passengers and 11 members of the crew were transferred to another flight.

A spokeswoman for United Airlines, Megan McCarthy, said after the incident that the carrier considers safety as its highest priority and that because of this the pilot has been dismissed. She added that the airline was fully cooperating with authorities and that an investigation would soon be underway.

Airline pilots must respect an extremely strict limit of alcohol in their systems before a flight. Nine micrograms of alcohol in every volume 100 millilitres of breath is the maximum permitted under regulations. In comparison, the limit permitted for English motorists is 35 micrograms in the same volume of breath. To respect these standards, pilots should avoid alcohol the night before a flight.

One pilot said the alcohol permitted is only slightly above the natural level in the body and 16 hours prior to a flight is considered the be the cut-off time to stop consumption in order to respect the strict air industry policies.

Mr Washington will appear at Uxbridge Magistrates' Court in Middlesex on November 20.

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