Page last updated at 16:02 GMT, Tuesday, 5 January 2010

US pilot admits being over alcohol limit

Erwin Washington
The United Airlines plane was due to take off from Heathrow Airport

A US pilot has pleaded guilty to being over the alcohol limit as he prepared to take off from Heathrow Airport.

Erwin Washington, 51, from Lakewood, Colorado, was arrested in November last year on a flight that was due to leave Heathrow Airport.

A breath test showed Washington was more than three times the permitted limit to fly a plane.

The United Airlines pilot will be sentenced on 5 February, Uxbridge Magistrates' Court ruled.

Flight cancelled

Washington was due to captain a Boeing 767 bound for Chicago with 124 passengers and 11 crew members on board on 9 November last year.

The plane's departure was imminent when a colleague smelled alcohol on his breath. Police arrived and arrested him.

The flight was subsequently cancelled and passengers were put on other planes.

Kevin Christie, prosecuting, said: "Mr Washington was arrested as it was believed he had reported for work and had intended to fly the aircraft in the role of captain."

The court heard that on his arrest Washington, who has a military record, replied: "Okay, fine."

A breath test recorded a reading of 31 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath, with the legal limit being nine micrograms.

There are, thankfully, very few cases of this sort
Chris Humphreys, defending

A blood test revealed 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100ml of blood. The limit for pilots is 20 milligrams of alcohol, compared to the legal limit of 80 milligrams for motorists.

Defending, Chris Humphreys said Washington was "remorseful".

Legislation regarding aviation staff over the legal limit for flying has only been used seven times since it was introduced in 2003, Mr Humphreys said.

He added: "There are, thankfully, very few cases of this sort."

Magistrates' chairman Geoff Edwards said their powers were insufficient to sentence Washington, who will instead be sentenced at Isleworth Crown Court in February.

Magistrates could have imposed a maximum £5,000 fine, a Crown Prosecution spokesman said.

But at crown court, Washington could be jailed for a maximum of two years and given a fine, or solely face a fine.

The pilot was released on unconditional bail.

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Heathrow pilot faces drink charge
11 Nov 09 |  London

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