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Japan Airlines disgraced - Japanese pilot jailed in UK for being nine times over drink limit

A Japanese pilot, who was arrested at London's Heathrow airport as he prepared to fly an aircraft while more than nine times over the aviation alcohol limit, was jailed for 10 months on Thursday.

Japan Airlines first officer, Katsutoshi Jitsukawa, failed an alcohol breath test less than an hour after he was due to have taken off in the cockpit of a flight to Tokyo in October. He was tested after a ground crew member smelled alcohol and reported him to authorities. Tests showed he had 189 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood in his system, more than nine times the 20 mg limit for pilots.

Jitsukawa was then arrested in late October and pleaded guilty at the Uxbridge Magistrates' Court in London to performing an aviation function with alcohol in his blood exceeding the prescribed legal limit.  Based upon evidence presented to the court, Jitsukawa will be jailed for 10 months at Isleworth Crown Court over the incident, then deported from the U.K. and will have his aviation pilots license revoked by the U.K. government which means he will not be able to pilot international flights.

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Inspector Iain Goble, of London's Aviation Policing issued a statement that said: "Clearly, the consequences could potentially have been catastrophic had security staff and police not intervened and he had continued to perform his role on the aircraft in the state he was.”

Goble continued: “This is an incredibly serious offence as Jitsukawa, a member of the airline crew, had responsibility for performing a critical role," he added in a statement. This conviction reflects he displayed not only total disregard for the safety of all the passengers and staff on his flight, but also the wider public."

As a reaction to the U.K. incident, Japan Airlines has imposed a 24-hour preflight drinking ban for its pilots and those of its group airline companies. The measures are provisional and JAL and the five other group companies that operate passenger jets will consider whether to make them permanent.

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Japan Air Commuter Co, Japan Transocean Air Co and Ryukyu Air Commuter Co did not change their rules immediately after the arrest, but felt the need to impose tougher measures after a JAC pilot was found on Wednesday to have delayed the departure of a domestic flight because of preflight drinking. The remaining group company, Hokkaido Air System Co., had an eight-hour ban, but it has also expanded it to 24 hours.

Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways are Japan’s flagship airlines and are among the most respected companies in Japan.  However, trust in both airlines has been seriously damaged and the Ministry of Transportation has said that it may look at the airlines operations and impose mandatory rules on it with stiff financial penalties if the airlines can not restore the publics trust in the integrity and professionalism of its pilots and other staff.

The MOT’s statements came after an investigation into JAL found that pilots had failed alcohol breath tests 19 times in a little over a year. Nineteen pilots were found to have alcohol levels above 0.1 mg/L during the last 15 months in violation of airline policy, and a total of 12 flights were delayed as a result of positive breathalyser tests.

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