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Piloting Impaired Is More Common Than You Think

But the answer is only one app away.

When the 2012 drama film Flight premiered, audiences were stunned to see its protagonist, a veteran airplane pilot portrayed by Denzel Washington, lose control of his plane after abusing cocaine and vodka.

While the movie plot was fabricated from the real-life events of the Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crash—which was caused not by impaired driving but by insufficient lubrication of the jackscrew assembly—the story struck a nerve with many viewers nonetheless.

Perhaps Flight viewers were right to see caution in the movie’s prophetic message. As recent as the 28th of October this year, another airplane pilot nearly made the same mistake.

Two months ago, first officer Katsutoshi Jitsukawa, a co-pilot of Japan Airlines (JAL), was arrested and fired after failing to pass a breath test at Heathrow Airport.

Jitsukawa, 42, was sentenced to jail for 10 months after failing to pass a breath test 50 minutes before his flight.

According to BBC News, Jitsukawa was discovered to have 189mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood in his system — 169 milligrams higher than the legal limit for a pilot.

Luckily for the passengers that were fated to be in Jitsukawa’s flight, the incident did not pass by undetected.

In the midst of covering up the smell of alcohol with mouthwash in the airplane toilet, Jitsukawa’s intoxicated state was quickly detected by airport security. Less than an hour before his flight was set to take place, the would-be co-pilot was forcibly removed from the plane and promptly arrested.

Though security personnel from Heathrow Airport were able to stop the intoxicated Japan Airlines (JAP) first officer from risking a JL44 flight to Tokyo, the trend of impaired pilots does not seem to be leveling off.

Drunk piloting, which presents a major risk to both passengers and fellow jets in the airspace, is a small yet ever-present risk in air travel.

FAA records from 2016 point to increased drug use among working pilots. From 2010 to 2015, 64 pilots were cited for violating the alcohol and drug provisions. In 2015 alone, 38 pilots tested positive for an illegal drug.

It is likely that impaired piloting has gone undetected because of a lack of regulation.

Airplane staff is not required to be checked for impairment before they board their plane, and most pilots in the U.S. and Europe are only tested randomly for alcohol under suspicion.

Similarly, drug tests are random and sparse. This leaves room for pilots to be impaired, by either alcohol or drugs, without being detected.

A case study from CBS News suggests that proper monitoring may be the solution to this problem.

In India, where all pilots and flight attendants are required to be tested for alcohol, 43 pilots were detained from flying after testing positive in 2015. Of the 43, it’s probable that some may have not shown signs of intoxication and would have flown otherwise.

The only clear answer to preventing this widespread threat to air and passenger safety is to implement mandatory drug and alcohol tests before pilots board their flight.

Introducing breathalyzer systems at every airport and enforcing alcohol tests among airplane staff could be one step towards achieving this mission.

There is also a faster method of checking impairment. Otorize, a new app recently featured on the Times of Israel, is scientifically proven to assess and detect impairment in a matter of seconds. The app is cost-effective and easy-to-use, which helps airplane staff and everyday citizens alike.

Otorize is available on Google Play and is currently free for everyone.


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