Monday, January 02, 2017

Sunwing Airlines on drunk pilot arrested in Calgary: all foreign pilots trained, approved

Two days after a pilot was found unconscious in a cockpit before takeoff and tested at more than three times the legal alcohol limit just hours later, Sunwing Airlines is answering questions on how foreign pilots are hired.

Miroslav Gronych, a Slovakian national in Canada on a work visa, was escorted from the aircraft after gate crew and the co-pilot noticed odd behavior and alerted police. He was charged with having care and control of an aircraft while impaired and having care and control of an aircraft while having a blood alcohol level over .08 (or exceeding 80 mgs of alcohol per 100mL of blood).

Sunwing Airlines said it currently employs about 350 Canadian pilots and contracts up to 60 foreign pilots in a Monday statement sent to Global News. Spokesperson Jacqueline Grossman called it “an important factor in the business’s growth and profitability and enabled Sunwing to offer unbeatable value on affordable vacations.”

“All pilots operating in Canada must be qualified to do so,” Grossman wrote.

“All of the foreign pilots are licensed by EASA and receive a foreign licence validation from Transport Canada. In addition all foreign pilots receive training and are approved by Sunwing’s flight operations training department before being approved to fly Sunwing aircraft.”

She wrote all pilots must also have a minimum number of commercial flight hours on a B737 aircraft before operating such a plane.

“Canadian pilots and aircraft are contracted to European carriers in the summer season and Sunwing reciprocates by taking in European pilots and planes in the winter,” she said, citing the “highly seasonal nature of the Canadian vacation industry.”

Watch below: The Calgary Police Service has charged a pilot that was found to be impaired prior to an aircraft departure. According to investigators, the captain of the plane was passed out in the cockpit. Reid Fiest reports.

Sunwing employs over 2,000 Canadians and serves over two million customers annually, she said.

Grossman did not include an answer when asked if Sunwing tests for alcohol impairment and if so, how often.

Transport Canada declined to comment on what guidelines pilots would receive related to impairment as part of its foreign licence validation.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) did not immediately answer a Global News request.

Alcohol impairment at three times legal limit

Dr. Gregg Bendrick, an aerospace medicine specialist in California, said it’s not unheard of for pilots to be found intoxicated prior to takeoff in the United States, adding “that’s one of the reasons why regulatory authorities have programs in place, to identify these problems.”

Bendrick also works as a senior aviation medical examiner with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and said there is a clear drug and alcohol testing program for commercial airline pilots in the U.S., which includes a random testing component. He said anyone identified as impaired would then be evaluated to see if they suffer from alcoholism.

“I’m not defending alcohol-impaired pilots, but I will say pilots—like any other humans—are subject to chemical and substance abuse disorders,” he said.

“I don’t think it should be surprising that we have mechanisms in place to test pilots and identify them and get them the help they need and remove them from cockpits.”

Bendrick said alcohol has very well-defined performance effects related to how people perceive incoming information and execute appropriate responses.

“With alcohol, those effects are fairly consistent with the blood alcohol content and don’t tend to vary much from individuals,” he said. “How individuals are able to cover that up and still seem to function can vary with their experience in drinking.”

Bendrick, who is also an instructor in the University of Southern California’s aviation safety and security program, said the reading of “three times the legal limit” reported by Calgary police would mean a reading of about 2.4 mgs of alcohol per 100mL of blood, raising the possibility of an addiction.

“Somebody in a workplace setting where they have a really high level—especially if over 200 (the 2.00 reading)—this is somebody that really one has to think: this is not the first time that they’ve been at a work environment where they’ve been intoxicated,” he said. “This is an experienced drinker who would have that much alcohol on board and still be able to report for work.

“It’s arguable whether he’s ‘able to’ if he’s passed out, but he showed up apparently ready to fly an airplane with a very high amount of alcohol on board. Those features suggest to me [he] might have an alcohol dependency problem. That’s a much more deep-rooted problem to address, particularly in a professional pilot.”

Calgary police said Gronych was released on bail and is set to appear in court Jan. 5.

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