Monday, March 19, 2007

Transatlantic pilot 'more than six times over alcohol flying limit'

Pilot James Yates was almost six and a half times over the drink limit to fly a plane when he turned up at Heathrow

An airline pilot turned up for work while almost six and a half times over the drink limit to fly a plane, a court has heard.

American James Yates, 46, smelled strongly of alcohol and was unsteady on his feet when he turned up for duty at Manchester Airport, it has been claimed.

A First Officer with American Airlines, he was to be one of three pilots on a 10.30am transatlantic flight to Chicago with 181 passengers on board on February 11 last year, Manchester's Minshull Street Crown Court was told.

But when he went to go through a security gate for flight crew in his pilots uniform he could not find his identification security pass.

Security staff could smell drink and called in police, who arrested Yates. He then failed a breathalyser test, Martin Walsh, prosecuting, told the jury.

"Police arrived and the defendant smelled strongly of intoxicants, alcohol, and he was asked to provide a specimen of breath," Mr Walsh added.

"He provided a specimen of breath and it was positive."

The first specimen showed Yates had 71 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath. The legal limit for driving a car is 35 micrograms and for an aircraft is nine micrograms, the jury were told.

Yates was arrested and taken to Altrincham Police Station where a doctor took a blood sample.

This gave a result of 129 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, the court was told. The legal limit for flying an aircraft is 20 micrograms.

"He was approaching six and a half times the legal limit for flying an aircraft," Mr Walsh said.

Yates, from Ohio, US, told police he turned up for work to tell the captain he was sick and unable to perform his duties and it was not his intention to be part of the crew on that flight.

"The Crown say that is untrue," Mr Walsh said.

"He arrived at the airport in uniform. He tried to gain entrance through security checks used by the air crew, not by the passengers."

Yates had earlier missed a bus taking flight crew from a hotel to the airport. When the captain had gone to his hotel room he appeared "dishevelled" and followed the rest of the crew in a cab to the airport, the court heard.

Mr Walsh said: "The Crown's case, in essence, is he clearly had been drinking heavily, had consumed alcohol and when he got to the airport his intention was to go through security check-in with the intention of performing his function of first officer on the flight from Manchester to Chicago."

The flight was delayed and had to land in New York because it only had two pilots, not three as required by law for such a long flight, the court was told.

Yates is not charged with attempting to fly an aircraft while over the limit as he did not gain access to the plane.

He denies a single charge of carrying out an activity ancillary to an aviation function, that of acting as first officer, while over the limit.

The case continues.


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