Can Pilots Drink While Flying?

Something that you might have heard about pilots is that they like to drink, but how much truth is there to this?

The last thing that you want to do is to get on a plane and be flown around by a drunk pilot, as this would pose a major safety risk.

Most people wouldn’t think twice about putting their safety in a pilot’s hands, and most of the time, they would probably be right to do so.

Can Pilots Drink While Flying?

However, there are some occasions where pilots have gotten into the cockpit drunk, and this is not a situation that anyone wants to find themselves in. 

If you are curious about the rules and regulations that are in place when it comes to pilots and alcohol consumption, then you have come to the right place.

We are going to talk about these rules, and the consequences for breaking them in the article.

Are Most Pilots Alcoholics?

Most pilots are not alcoholics, and the chances of you boarding a plane that is piloted by a drunk pilot are very slim.

There are almost 10,000 flights around the world each day that transport more than 8 million people, and most of these pilots will be sober. 

Interestingly, you are more likely to be killed by a drunk driver than a drunk pilot, so your chances are certainly much better in the air than on the ground.

However, we cannot say that drunk pilots are totally unheard of, and it does happen sometimes.

In such an industry, you might be wondering why a pilot would even dream of getting drunk with the responsibility that they carry, but they do lead lives that could drive anyone to alcoholism. 

While this is by no means an excuse for getting into the cockpit drunk, pilots do lead very lonely lives.

Of course, jetting off around the world sounds great in theory, but a pilot will spend much of their time alone and away from their families.

As well as this, the lifestyle of a pilot is associated with higher levels of stress, and they work really long hours, often with back to back flights.

Of course, there are lots of jobs that come with their fair share of stress, and pilots are not the only ones who have to deal with this, but some people may find it more difficult to cope with than others.

More often than not, if somebody is finding it difficult to cope with a certain situation, they are more likely to turn to alcohol.

Are Pilots Breathalyzed Before Flying?

Something that you might be surprised to learn is that pilots are not breathalyzed before every flight.

There are some countries that take part in random testing, but this is not a routine thing. Pilots in both the US and UK are not required to take a breathalyzer before they take off. 

Most of the time, a pilot will only be tested randomly, or if there is a reasonable suspicion that they are over the limit.

Of the 13,149 people that were randomly tested for alcohol intoxication in 2015, only a small number of 10 of them failed the test.

One of the main defenses against a drunk pilot is the eyes and ears of the crew and passengers on board.

Cabin crew are widely encouraged to report any suspected intoxication of a pilot or another crew member, and passengers can also reach out to a member of staff if they have any concerns.

Pilots drinks while flying

This is a very unlikely occurrence, but this does not mean that it will not happen ever.

Random testing is in place to keep people on their toes, never knowing if they are going to be tested or not, but perhaps this is not enough to deter people from drinking alcohol.

If a drunk pilot gets on board the plane and has not been randomly tested, then it is up to the crew to raise any concerns if they have them. 

Some countries do not think that these rules are acceptable, and they have much stricter ones in place.

For example, in India, every pilot is required to take a breathalyzer before their scheduled flight, and they also must not drink alcohol more than 12 hours before the flight. 

Although, India is known to have a much bigger problem with drunk pilots, so this could be why the rules are stricter. 

Can Pilots Drink Alcohol?

A pilot can drink alcohol, as long as they stick to the rules that are in place.

A pilot cannot fly within 8 hours of alcohol consumption, while under the influence of alcohol, while using any drugs that affect a person’s ability to concentrate safely, or while having an alcohol concentration level of 0.04 or higher.

How Long Does a Pilot Have to Wait After Drinking?

There are two big alcohol regulations that are in place through the  Federal Aviation Administration.

Perhaps the most well known of the two is the bottle to throttle rule, which is in place to dictate the amount of time that has to have passed between a pilot drinking an alcoholic beverage and their next flight. 

Commercial airlines are aware that there are some pilots that turn to drink, and they have a rule in place that means that pilots must leave 8 hours between their last drink and their flight time.

However, they must also consider the second rule that is in place. Of course, there are some instances where a person can still be drunk after 8 hours, which is why there is a second rule.

This rule requires pilots to have a blood-alcohol concentration of less than 0.04% at the time of their flight.

This is in place to ensure that a pilot is completely safe to fly a plane, even if they have waited the required 8 hours.

What Happens if a Pilot is Drunk?

Nothing good can come from a pilot turning up to work drunk, and the consequences for such behavior are very severe.

If a pilot were to fail a breathalyzer, they could lose their pilot’s certification for at least a year.

As well as this, there could be the potential for criminal prosecution, as most states will have laws in place to stop pilots from flying while under the influence. 

Pilot intoxication can bring criminal charges in the US, and pilots that try to fly drunk, or succeed in doing so, can face up to 15 years in prison.

There are many unions and organizations in place that are aware of the levels of alcohol abuse in the pilot industry, and it is encouraged for a pilot to reach out if they have a problem.

There is the possibility to get treatment for a drug or alcohol problem without jeopardizing your entire career. It is the hope that a person would reach out if they were struggling, but unfortunately, many people won’t. 

There are clear and reasonable rules in place to prevent a drunk pilot from flying a plane, but the rules may not be as enforced as they could be.

If the crew on board don’t suspect anything, and the pilot isn’t randomly tested, then they could fly a plane and nobody would ever know.