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JAL pilot arrested in Britain for exceeding alcohol limit

The delayed flight takes off with just two pilots

JAL officials apologize at a press conference after a co-pilot was arrested in London for drinking before a flight.

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan Airlines Co. said Thursday one of its pilots was arrested by British police for exceeding the alcohol limit before a flight from London to Tokyo, leaving the airline to operate the flight with two pilots rather than the normal three.

JAL said an alcohol level more than 10 times the legal limit set under British aviation law was detected in the 42-year-old co-pilot's system, after he drank two bottles of wine and five cans of beer over six hours from 6 p.m. the night before the flight.

JAL Flight 44's departure for Haneda airport scheduled for 7 p.m. Sunday local time was delayed by 1 hour 9 minutes.

The driver of a Heathrow Airport crew bus noticed the smell of alcohol on the co-pilot's breath and reported it to police, according to JAL.

JAL said the pilot is suspected of improperly clearing the alcohol check, as the airline's breath-testing equipment did not detect a problem. The two pilots who took the test with the co-pilot did not notice anything wrong with his behavior.

The case came to light a day after All Nippon Airways Co. apologized for five flight delays in Okinawa last week because a pilot became unwell after a night of drinking.

In May, a JAL flight attendant was caught sneaking a beer into a plane restroom and drinking it mid-flight.

The transport ministry on Thursday issued a document directing all Japanese airlines to report by month-end measures being taken to control drinking by flight staff.

Following the incident, JAL said it will introduce new breath-testing equipment at overseas airports. It will also prohibit pilots from drinking alcohol 24 hours prior to flights, compared to the current 12 hours.

Hiroshi Sugie, a former JAL captain, said, "Instead of setting stricter rules, what they should do is improve pilots' self-management and provide thorough education."

JAL normally operates long-haul routes connecting Japan with the United States or Europe with three pilots in the cockpit -- two captains and a co-pilot -- so they can take breaks in turn.

Under its internal rules, JAL limits two-pilot flights to routes of up to 12 hours. From Haneda, it takes about 12 hours and 30 minutes to fly to London, but 11 hours and 45 minutes for the return flight.

For London-Tokyo flights, the airline operates the route with three pilots aboard although the flying time is under 12 hours.

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