'Drunken' pilot held at Heathrow

By Ray Massey, Daily Mail

Last updated at 08:58 02 July 2004

A pilot was arrested in his cockpit for allegedly being drunk in charge of an airliner minutes before take-off at Heathrow airport yesterday.

Charles Nicholls had been due to fly the Royal Brunei aircraft and its 170 passengers to Brunei's Bandar Seri Bagawan airport.

But instead the 53-year- old British pilot was taken away and breathalysed before being charged with being over the limit.

The law was tightened last year, making it an offence for a pilot to have only 20mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.

It is understood that security staff were concerned about the way the pilot was acting. They thought they could smell alcohol on his breath and alerted the police.

Officers boarded the plane and led the grey-haired pilot off the plane just minutes before it was scheduled to take-off from Terminal 3 at 9.40am.

The aircraft, which is believed to have been carrying mainly British tourists and ex-patriot UK workers to the oil rich country, was delayed for several hours while a reserve pilot was sought.

Passengers on board were told that the captain had left the aircraft-to help police with their enquiries' into an incident which had taken place outside the plane.

A Scotland Yard spokesman confirmed that a pilot employed by Royal Brunei airlines was arrested yesterday morning. She said: 'A man aged 53 was arrested by police at Heathrow Airport this morning. Police officers administered a breath test. He has been bailed to return to a police station in mid-August for further inquiries.'

The Railways and Safety Transport Act sets the 20mg alcohol limit for flying staff, which compares to the UK drink-drive limit of 80mg. It is a criminal offence for flying staff and licensed engineers to be over the limits when they are working.

Legislation passed this year also gives police the power to breathalise on-duty flight and cabin crew and licensed aircraft engineers if they suspect legal alcohol limits have been exceeded.

Yesterday's incident came days after British Airways became the first UK airline to introduce drug and alcohol testing for its staff. It follows a spate of scandals over drunken pilots and cabin crew.

BA staff face breath and urine tests for alcohol and drugs if suspectedof breaking the company's strict rules against being 'under the influence' on duty. A random test can also be done in the first six months of employment.

A positive test - or refusal to take a test - will result in disciplinary action and could lead to dismissal from the airline, said BA.

The BA tests apply from August 1 and are in addition to the airline's existing policy that staff must not be impaired by drugs or alcohol when they are at work. The alcohol limit for all BA ground staff will be the same as the drink drive limit.

Under BA rules, pilots face the sack if they drink alcohol eight hours before reporting for duty and are told to drink only 'moderate' amounts in the 24 hours before a flight.

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