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Britain says pilot on duty was drunk

Associated Press / November 11, 2009

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LONDON - British police have charged a United Airlines pilot with being over the alcohol limit while on the job at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Scotland Yard said it has charged 51-year-old Erwin Vermont Washington with having too much alcohol in his system while working as a member of aviation staff.

Police and airline officials say that Washington was pulled from United Airlines Flight 949, due to fly from London’s Heathrow Airport to Chicago around noon on Monday, after a co-worker suspected him of being drunk.

The flight was canceled and the plane’s 124 passengers were put on other flights.

Police said yesterday that Washington was due in court Nov. 20.

Airlines spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said the pilot had been removed from service pending an investigation. She said her airline had strict rules on alcohol “and we have no tolerance for violation of this well-established policy.’’

Monday’s incident bears a strong resemblance to the arrest in May at Heathrow of an American Airlines pilot, also scheduled to fly a plane to Chicago, after he failed a breath test. Airport security staff had alerted airport police about the pilot.

In January, Southwest Airlines put a pilot on leave after passengers at a security checkpoint in Columbus, Ohio, told authorities that he smelled of alcohol. The pilot ran into a restroom and changed out of his uniform jacket and called in sick.

Union leaders say pilots are under increased scrutiny by security agents and passengers because of high-profile cases involving drunk pilots.