First officer was seven times over the legal limit
A PILOT has been jailed after he admitted boarding a flight to America while over the legal alcohol limit.
Carlos Roberto Licona, 45, was expected to fly as first officer on a United Airlines flight to Newark, New Jersey, from Glasgow Airport.
But Paisley Sheriff Court was told he was taken off the plane after security staff smelled alcohol on his breath.
Licona, from Texas, was also asked to give blood tests and breath samples before the flight on Saturday August 27 last year.
The police were contacted and officers hauled Licona off the flight in front of 72 passengers who had already taken their seats.
Licona was breath-tested and blew a reading of 63microgrammes of alcohol in 100ml of breath – seven times the 9mcg drink-fly limit.
He told the Police Scotland officers: “I had a few beers with lunch yesterday with the rest of the crew and a few with dinner.”
But he and a colleague had actually sat up drinking while the rest of the United Airlines workers went to bed, in breach of the airline’s rules on drinking before flying.
He was detained over the revelations and charged under section 93 of the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003, which covers alcohol limits in aviation.
Licona pled guilty to the offence and was given a reduced sentence of 10 months by Sheriff David Pender because of his admission.
The details emerged yesterday when Licona appeared in the dock to plead guilty over the incident.
Procurator Fiscal Depute Scot Dignan said Licona had arrived off a flight the day before and spent the evening in a local Hilton Hotel, before returning to the airport the following morning for the flight back to Newark.
He said that Licona boarded the flight with two other pilots – another first officer and the captain.
The prosecutor added: “As [United Airlines] cabin crew and pilots passed through the body scanners the alarms activated. While conducting a search [a security officer] spoke to him and could detect the clear smell of alcohol from the pilot’s breath.
“All the flight deck and cabin crew where chewing gum – a sign they may have been trying to hide the smell of alcohol.”
Gordon Jackson QC said Licona was a family man with a military background prior to becoming a pilot. He said the pilot, who has no previous convictions, had struggled with an alcohol addiction for a number of years, but sought help after being arrested for the offence and returning to America.
He explained: “He has a drink problem. What he has done, when he went back to the USA, when released from here, has been to address his use of alcohol – and address it in a very structured way. In particular, going to something called HIMS – the Human Intervention Motivation Study.”
Mr Jackson said the HIMS Program was specifically designed to treat pilots who have addiction issues, adding: “The Airline Pilots Association started it and it is funded partly by the government, in order to deal with this particular problem.”
He said Licona was suspended by United Airlines and was not being paid, but had not lost his job.
Mr Jackson asked Sheriff David Pender to spare Licona jail, but Sheriff David Pender ruled there was only one way he could deal with Licona and condemned his conduct.
HE said: “I have various concerns about this case. You were in a very responsible position of trust – there were 144 passengers that were relying on you and the other pilots to keep them safe. If called upon to do your duties there must have been a question mark over whether or not you could do them properly, and I think that’s certainly an aggravating factor.
“You state in the social work report that you’ve had a dependency on alcohol for many years but have taken no steps to deal with it until after this incident. You and one of your colleagues continued to drink after the rest of your colleagues had gone to bed, and did so in the knowledge that you breached your employer’s eighthour guidelines on drinking before the commencement of your shift.”
A United Airlines spokesman said: “We hold all of our employees to the highest standards. This pilot was immediately removed from service and his flying duties.”