If there's any good news to come from the arrest of the United pilot who allegedly had too much alcohol in his system as he prepared to fly his Boeing 767 from London Heathrow to Chicago O'Hare it's that the system apparently worked.
A concerned United employee notified authorities who came aboard the aircraft and administered a breathalyzer test to Erwin Vermont Washington, 51, which allegedly showed that he was over the legal limit in England. (We have to use "allegedly" since he hasn't been convicted yet.)
He was arrested and thrown in jail. Flight 949's passengers had to be booked on other flights.
NPR's Rob Gifford gives us an idea of the British alcohol limits for operating an aircraft. Also, it appears Washington, of Lakewood, Colo, must return to England for a hearing right before Thanksgiving.
Under British law, pilots are forbidden from having any more than 20 micrograms of alcohol for each 100 milliliters of blood in their body. That is only equivalent of having about half a glass of beer. British police said Washington had been released on bail and would appear in court on November 20th. If convicted, he faces up to two years in prison, a fine, or both. A United Airlines spokeswoman said United has strict rules on alcohol and had no tolerance for violation of its policy.
While the system worked this time, you wonder how many times it's failed and legally drunk pilots have flown without being caught. Probably more than most of us care to know.
Between this incident and Northwest Air Lines wayward pilots who were too distracted in the cockpit to notice they had overshot their destination by hundreds of miles, the reputation of pilots at the major airlines is taking some major hits.
And that after the year started out with pilots being portrayed as heroes after Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger's gutsy and successful ditching of his airliner into the Hudson River.