A female pilot for Qantas Airways was made to give up her duties just last week after the airline’s flight attendants became suspicious that she had been drinking alcohol prior to the flight. The captain was pulled from her plane just minutes before the flight took off from Sydney Airport. She was then tested for alcohol and recorded a positive reading.
The incident happened on Monday, July 30 just as the Boeing 767-300 the pilot was operating prepared for takeoff from Sydney to Brisbane. The service was carrying 254 passengers when the cabin crew alerted the carrier’s flight operation managers of their suspicion the captain had been drinking. Since the pilot was discovered to be over the blood alcohol limit to fly a commercial airliner, Qantas has launched an investigation and suspended the captain from operational duties with full pay. However, it won’t comment on what alcohol test reading the woman recorded or how recently before the flight she was drinking, as the matter still under investigation.
A passenger on flight QF516 has given their account of how close the plane was to being operated by a pilot under the influence of alcohol. They say the aircraft was already taxiing to the control tower when the female pilot announced that they had to turn back due to a problem. She told the passengers that they needed a new part, which meant the flight had to be delayed for about 45 minutes. As the plane made its way back to the gate, the passengers were told that Qantas would take care of any items they bought in the terminal, up to $30, while they waited. It wasn’t until about one hour later that the flight finally got to begin its journey with a new crew.
Qantas’s investigation is expected to take a month at the least, and the airline has notified the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), which regulates air safety, about the incident. However, this is considered more of a matter for the carrier to handle than the regulator. This is because the captain’s test was done under the alcohol and drug management plan put in place by the airline. If the probe finds that this incident was a one-time thing, the female captain will have to undergo counselling and a medical assessment to conclude if she is worthy to fly. However, if this is found to be a recurring problem, she will be taken off her duties.
Meanwhile, the CASA has been randomly testing flight crews – pilots and flight attendants – as well as ground staff, since 2008 at airports. A spokesman says that Qantas Airways is responsible for the incident’s investigation under its alcohol and drug management plan. If they find anyone to be affected by drugs or alcohol while on duty or on standby, they will automatically be suspended from safety sensitive aviation activities. Affected staff won’t be able to go back to their duties until they are medically assessed, undergo rehabilitation if needed, and are given clearance by a physician. The organisation added that it won’t comment on any specific testing or results.
It’s rare for aircraft captains to be taken off a flight for airline procedure breaches. Qantas Airways has a zero tolerance policy for pilots who test positive for alcohol on any level. Also of note, the carrier has 2,200 pilots and fewer than 100 are women.
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