PIA pilot stopped from flying tests negative for alcohol

Published March 28, 2019
The pilot failed a breath analyser test before PIA flight PKA-785 to Birmingham. — AFP/File
The pilot failed a breath analyser test before PIA flight PKA-785 to Birmingham. — AFP/File

RAWALPINDI: A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) pilot who was stopped from operating a flight at the Islamabad International Airport (IIA) last week on suspicions of being under the influence tested negative for alcohol at a private laboratory.

The pilot failed a breath analyser test before PIA flight PKA-785 to Birmingham, which had 288 passengers including 11 children on board.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said in its report that Capt Pir Ommar Khayyam tested positive for alcohol during routine random snap checks for alcohol. The test was conducted by Dr Farhana Badar as IIA on March 21, 2019, at around 11:30am; the pilot’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was found to be 0.12 per mille.

The test was repeated with a fresh mouthpiece after 15 minutes, and also came back positive but with a lower concentration – 0.09 per mille. According to protocol, the pilot was off-loaded in the presence of Dr Nasir Zareen and Dr Naveed Iqbal Janjua from the CAA.

The report said the pilot was accompanied by both doctors to a laboratory in Rawalpindi where he underwent testing for alcohol and other psychoactive substances two hours later. The captain was “fully conscious and extremely cooperative” the whole time.

The captain tested negative for alcohol and other psychoactive substances, the report said. The tests were repeated using preserved samples at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi on March 22 and also came back negative.

The CAA report said the breath analyser reports gave false positives on both occasions, inconveniencing all concerned.

It said breath analyser tests alone are never regarded as final, and have to be followed by blood and urine tests for alcohol and other psychoactive substances in order to ensure flight safety.

A letter issued by CAA Dr Sajjad Ahmad Afridi, additional director of Aero Medical and chief of Aviation Medicine, said the pilot was free of alcohol and the inconvenience caused to him was due to unavoidable procedural protocol to be followed in order to ensure flight safety.

The PIA management had also taken serious notice of the case after being informed that one of its pilots tested positive for alcohol in a medical check up at IIA before operating a flight to Birmingham. A PIA spokesperson had said the pilot was immediately grounded and an inquiry had been ordered.

According to airline rules, crew members are not permitted to consume alcohol for 12 hours before the commencement of a flight.

A PIA pilot was held by British authorities in 2013 for being under the influence before he was due to fly a plane, and was later sentenced to nine months in prison.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2019

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