Jail for Pakistan Airlines pilot who tried to take off from Leeds three times over limit

AN experienced pilot who was found to be more than three times the permitted alcohol level as he was about to fly an Airbus with 156 people on board from Leeds to Pakistan has been jailed for nine months.

Irfan Faiz of PIA Pakistan International Airways. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
Irfan Faiz of PIA Pakistan International Airways. Picture: Ross Parry Agency

The judge sentencing Irfan Faiz, 55, said it was “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.

And Mr Justice Coulson at Leeds Crown Court said he was “astonished” to hear that pilots regularly flying out of the UK were not aware of the rules in this country, which are based on the amount of alcohol present in the body.

Father-of-two Faiz was breath-tested at Leeds Bradford Airport on September 18 as he was undergoing pre-flight checks in an Airbus 310 with 145 passengers and 11 crew on board.

He was about to pilot the PIA 776 flight to Islamabad when he was asked to leave the cockpit due to concerns raised by security staff who said he smelled of drink and was unsteady on his feet.

Faiz gave an initial reading of 41 microgrammes in 100 millilitres of breath on the police officer’s handheld device. The legal limit for driving a car is 35 microgrammes but for flying in the UK it just nine, the court heard.

He later gave a reading on the evidential machine of 28.

The pilot told police he had consumed three-quarters of a bottle of whisky but had stopped drinking at about 3am. He was arrested before the flight which was due to depart at 10.10pm.

Faiz’s barrister, Paul Greaney QC, 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 back home.

The court heard that the defendant is from a prominent family in Pakistan.

Mr Greaney also told the judge that, despite being an experienced pilot, Faiz was not aware of the drink-fly rules in the UK.

He called retired PIA pilot Shahid Hussain into the witness box to explain that the rules in Pakistan are that there must be a 12-hour gap between “bottle and throttle”.

Captain Hussain said the rule used to be only eight hours.

Mr Justice Coulson said: “I find it extraordinary that rules of conduct relating to pilots drinking can encompass any amount of alcohol providing there is an amount of time, now 12 hours, before a pilot flies.

“I consider this to be an extraordinarily inadequate way to try to prevent pilots drinking in a way that would not endanger their passengers.”

He added: “It is, of course, astonishing, that pilots regularly flying from the UK are not aware of the rules that relate to their own conduct.”

The judge told Faiz: “This has been a high-profile case, attracting a good deal of media interest.

“It is important that the sentence I pass carries the important message that, in general terms, airline pilots who are in drink when they are about to fly will go to prison.

“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.”

The judge concluded: “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.”

The court heard that Faiz was an experienced and well-respected pilot with 25 years’ experience and an unblemished record.

Captain Hussain said of him: “He’s got a very good character. He’s very upright, outspoken, straightforward. Good in his profession and a good friend.”

Faiz admitted a charge of carrying out an ancillary aviation function while impaired by alcohol, contrary to the Railways and Transport Act 2003, at a previous hearing.