I came across an article recently which I found interesting and thought was worth sharing. We so often hear of drivers drinking and driving and the damages they cause, but we seldom hear of airplane pilots drinking and flying.
While airplane pilots, like truck and bus drivers have a lower legal Blood alcohol limit than normal drivers, the pilot in this story failed to stick to the 0.02 BAC limit as prescribed by law. The female pilot was attempting to fly from Sydney to Brisbane, endangering the lives of dozens of passengers. Thankfully the cabin crew were alert and noticed the pilots intoxication before a tragedy occurred.
This post on Safetowork.com.au describes the case involving the Qantas airline pilot who was suspended for drinking and flying.
This is what the post had to say:
Qantas has suspended a pilot for attempting to fly while under the influence of alcohol, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) says.
CASA spokesman Peter Gibson said the woman exceeded the limit for pilots of 0.02% alcohol in the blood in a test last week, as reported in local and international media outlets (ABC News – US, NBC, the Montreal Gazette, Jakarta Post and others, through Associated Press newswires).
Gibson said he did not know the pilot’s blood-alcohol reading.
The pilot was stopped last Monday as she was about to fly a Boeing 767-300 from Sydney to Brisbane, according to newswires.
According to a report in the Examiner, flight attendants had suspected that the pilot was impaired, and reported the situation to the carrier’s operations centre just after the plane was pushed back from the gate and was taxiing toward take-off.
Since September 2008, random alcohol and drug tests have been part of aviation safety regulations for pilots flying both domestic and international routes.
A blood-alcohol content of less than 0.02% is set as the limit for pilots. Tests for other drugs including cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines and opioids, were also brought in 2008 under an overhaul of aviation safety standards.
The reason why alcohol is dangerous when operating vehicles and heavy machinery is because it impairs our normal functioning so drastically. As people drink alcohol, most of it is absorbed into their bloodstream however a large percentage is absorbed from the small intestine, while the rest is absorbed from the stomach. This is why its effect on a person is largely based on a person’s last meal.
Many different brain functions are affected by alcohol but they are affected in different ways and in a certain order. Therefore a person’s BAC (blood alcohol content) must be at various levels to affect various systems.
The cerebral cortex is the highest order centre in the brain and since high order centres are affected by alcohol faster than lower order centres the cerebral cortex is mostly affected by alcohol.
The limbic system is the next area of the brain that is affected by alcohol consumption. This area controls emotional states, which is why people who are drunk are often aggressive, angry or overly emotional. Also, when alcohol affects the limbic system it can cause some memory loss which we have experienced in so many drinkers.
The cerebellum is the area of the brain that controls motor function. That is why one key test for testing how intoxicated a person is, is to touch one’s finger to one’s nose. If the cerebellum has been impaired by alcohol, such movements are nearly impossible. The cerebellum controls both motor control and balance which is why drinkers often become “tipsy” and walk in an unusual manner.
The medulla is the part of the brain often called the brain stem. This is the centre for automatic body functions. When this part of the brain is affected by alcohol a person can become unconscious and pass out. In extreme cases the person can even die. The alcohol could drop their body temperature dangerously and even cause them to stop breathing or cause their heart to stop pumping blood properly or stop pumping blood altogether.
Although we have concentrated on alcohol’s effect on the brain, it also affects other parts. It can irritate the stomach and cause vomiting. It can also cause an overly acidic stomach. Muscle aches are common during hangovers. That is why a pilot who attempts to fly an aircraft while intoxicated is so baffling. Why a person would endanger not only their own life but that of a large number of innocent passengers is what makes this case even more bizarre.
Posted by Peter Cutforth