Drunk Pilot Receives 10 Months in Prison After Failing Breathalyzer Test Before Takeoff

A Japan Airlines passenger jet taxies across the tarmac at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo, Japan, on January 31, 2018. TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images

A Japanese pilot arrested trying to board a passenger plane more than nine times over the alcohol limit has been jailed for 10 months.

Katsutoshi Jitsukawa admitted to drinking heavily the night before he was scheduled to fly a Boeing 777 Japan Airlines passenger jet from Heathrow Airport in London to Tokyo on October 28. He was arrested just 50 minutes before the scheduled takeoff, the BBC reported.

Jitsukawa was found to have 189 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood in his system—far above the legal limit for pilots of 20 mg. The drink-drive limit in most of the U.K.—excluding Scotland—is 80 mg per 100 ml of blood.

Jitsukawa, who said he felt an "abject disgrace," admitted to one charge of performing an aviation function when his ability was impaired through alcohol. The airman has since lost his job.

Judge Phillip Matthews said Jitsukawa, who was supposed to be serving as a co-pilot, was "very intoxicated" when he arrived to board the flight. "Most important is the safety of all persons on board that very long-haul flight, potentially 12 hours or more. Their safety was put at risk by your inebriation and drunkenness," he told Jitsukawa.

"The prospect of you taking over control of that aircraft is too appalling to contemplate. The potential consequences for those on board was catastrophic," he added. Matthews also said Jitsukawa had put his colleagues in a difficult position of covering up his drunkenness or reporting him.

Police were called to the gate when security staff noticed Jitsukawa smelled of alcohol. Staff said the pilot had "glazed eyes" and a police officer later said he had "difficulty standing straight."

Japan Airlines vice president Yasuhiro Kikuchi was in court to hear the verdict. He spoke to reporters outside and vowed the organization will "work together to prevent this happening again." He denied the other crew members had done anything wrong.

According to prosecutor Douglas Adams, Jitsukawa was challenged by security staff on the plane. The pilot told them he drank whisky the night before but had already passed a breathalyzer test.

He then told the staff he needed to get his blazer from inside the plane. The security manager followed Jitsukawa and found him in the bathroom rinsing his mouth with mouthwash.

Jitsukawa had cheated the first breathalyzer, taking it some distance from the senior pilots who were supposed to be watching, The Asahi Shimbun reported. Japan Airlines has said it will introduce a new testing system at foreign airport to prevent a repeat of the incident.

According to the Kyodo News Agency, Jitsukawa later admitted to drinking until around 10 p.m. the night before he was due to fly, consuming roughly two bottles of wine and a whole pitcher of beer.

Bill Emlyn Jones, who was mitigating, claimed Jitsukawa was using alcohol to self-medicate for depression. He said the pilot felt "abject disgrace" and wished to apologise to the airline, passengers and his family "for the shame he had brought upon them."

Following Jitsukawa's arrest, Japan's transport ministry issued an order to all Japanese airlines to implement measures to control excessive drinking by flight crew. The ministry said it required reports from each airline detailing the steps taken by the end of November.

Since August 2017, there have been 19 cases where Japan Airlines pilots have failed the company's alcohol tests, the BBC reported.