United Pilot Suspected of Drinking Pleads Guilty

A United pilot who was arrested on suspicion of flying drunk in November has pleaded guilty to the charges.

The pilot, Erwin Vermont Washington, was pulled off an aircraft in London after a co-worker reported him as he was preparing to depart for Chicago. Washington's blood alcohol content was quite a bit above the maximum allowable limit for pilots.

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Washington was removed from service duty during the investigation, and will be sentenced February 5. In court, Washington's lawyer said his client was "remorseful."

It's worth noting that the alcohol restrictions for pilots are extremely strict, and well below the legal limit for driving. When the story of Washington's arrest hit the newswires, pilot Patrick Smith filed a column that outlined the drinking restrictions placed on pilots. "The Federal Aviation Administration blood alcohol limit for airline pilots is 0.04 percent, and we are banned from consuming alcohol within eight hours of reporting for duty," Smith wrote. In most U.S. states, the legal limit is 0.08 percent.

"Pilots must also comply with their employer's policies, which tend to be tougher. Most airlines impose a 12-hour consumption restriction. Drug and alcohol testing is random and frequent."

Smith notes that Britain's requirements are even more strict. "The legal limit is set at 20 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. That's one-fourth the British limit for driving, and equates to about .02 percent blood alcohol level."

Of course, pilots should face a higher standard, considering the massive responsibility they bear. And, as Smith notes, the airline industry takes this responsibility very, very seriously. "A pilot showing up for duty under the influence isn't going to be held in high esteem by his colleagues," Smith writes. Air carriers and pilots' unions are very proactive when it comes to helping pilots who are struggling with alcohol.

And, obviously, the penatlties for violating alcohol restrictions are swift and devastating. Washington may have been able to legally drive himself home (and perhaps he should have), but it's not likely he'll be flying a commercial jet any time soon. That consquence alone should give passengers comfort, as very few pilots would risk their career for anything, let alone a drink.

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