After (another) pilot was found drunk in London this week, the issue of pilot inebriation has become a frequent discussion topic. Since 1997, 11 commercial pilots, on average, have tested positive for alcohol every year. According to FAA regulations, pilots can’t fly with a blood alcohol content of above 0.04 percent (it’s 0.02 percent in Great Britain). Last year, 13 pilots tested positive, making 2008 slightly above average.
The FAA conducts more than 10,000 random alcohol tests every year, says spokeswoman Laura Brown. This is approximately 10% of the total, as there are around 100,000 commercial pilots in the United States.
The latest culprit, Erwin Washington of United Airlines, was arrested at Heathrow Airport on Monday, when he was suspected of being drunk in the cockpit — members of his crew reported him to the authorities. Washington could lose his license as a result. Two other U.S. pilots have been arrested in England on charges involving alcohol in a little more than a year.
Though an intoxicated pilot is obviously a danger to the passengers, the National Transportation Safety Board says that no airline in the United States has crashed because the pilot was drunk.