London: A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) pilot was on Friday jailed for nine months by a British court for being over the legal alcohol limit when he was due to fly a plane with 156 people on board to Islamabad.
Irfan Faiz, 55, was held at Leeds Bradford Airport on September 18 as he underwent pre-flight checks in an Airbus 310 with 145 passengers and 11 crew.
He was about to pilot the PIA flight to Islamabad when he was asked to leave the cockpit due to concerns raised by security staff, who said he smelled of alcohol and was unsteady on his feet.
The father of two was found to have three times the legal amount of alcohol in his blood, prosecutors told Leeds Crown Court in northern England. The legal limit for driving a car is 35 micrograms but for flying in the UK it just nine.
Sentencing him, Justice Peter Coulson said Faiz had committed a "very serious offence".
He described as "extraordinary" that the rules in Pakistan only stated that there should be a 12-hour gap between "bottle and throttle", no matter how much the pilot had drunk.
"This is a very serious offence. If he had not been stopped, he would have flown the aircraft to Islamabad. That could have had potential catastrophic consequences," he said.
"Many people find flying a difficult and nervous ordeal at the best of times. They need to have absolute confidence in their safety and security."
Faiz told police that he had drunk three-quarters of a bottle of whisky but had stopped drinking at about 3:00 am, some 19 hours ahead of the planned take-off.
His barrister Paul Greaney told the court his client was not a heavy drinker but was under a lot of stress at the time because of a kidnap threat against his family. The court heard the defendant is from a prominent family in Pakistan.
Greaney told the judge that, despite being an experienced pilot, Faiz was not aware of the rules about drinking and flying in the UK.
Justice Coulson said he was "astonished" to hear pilots regularly flying out of the UK were not aware of the rules about alcohol consumption, which are based on the amount of alcohol present in the body.
In a statement, a PIA spokesperson said "further action" would be taken against Faiz once he had completed his sentence in the UK. "The maximum sentence is termination from service," he said.