The coming 16th Congress should consider introducing a bill amending the Anti-Drunk and Drugged Driving Act of 2013. And fast.
How come? President Benigno Aquino 3rd has just signed the darn bill into law.
Well, reports are starting to filter in, in both the print and broadcast media, that a number of the 165 passengers on board Cebu Pacific Flight 3J 971 had noticed the pilot frequently visiting the restroom throughout the short flight from Manila to Davao International Airport.
It was not clear whether the pilot—or co-pilot—was having a bad case of diarrhea. Or heaven forbid, he needed to throw up because he had one drink too many. He was also seen exhibiting strange behavior. Again, it was not clear what the passengers meant. Was he laughing at nothing or nobody in particular?
Whatever it was, the pilot landed the plane with its tires plowing into the runway shoulder or whatever is the technical term for that part of the airport, which, in this case, is overgrown with cogon grass. Either the pilot had an impaired vision or an impaired judgment. If it was a case of impaired judgment, it could only result from alcohol consumption or from drug use, of the illegal or legal kind.
Nobody’s accusing the pilot of flying under the influence. But experts already told us the mishap was caused by pilot error.
In that proposed amendment to the anti-drunk driving law, we suggest that Congress make it a felony for anybody to fly a plane if he or she has as much as tasted a drop of hard liquor: whisky or cognac, even wine or beer. The objective here is to remove the temptation of the pilot taking alcoholic drink to go with the food.
But why be too harsh on the pilot? When you’re commuting, you’d surely get off at the next stop if you notice the bus or tax driver is tipsy. At 40,000 feet, you cannot tell the pilot to pull over.
A US Federal law prohibits a pilot with a .04 percent blood alcohol level from flying an aircraft. Now authorities want to ban drinking altogether, for both the pilot and co-pilot and the cabin crew eight hours before the scheduled flight, under the so-called bottle-to-throttle doctrine.
And for a very good reason too. In 1987, a pilot crashed a rented four-seat Piper plane, killing himself and four passengers. He was reported to have downed a few bottles of beer at a local bar an hour or so before takeoff.
Nor is the problem confined to American pilots. A Japanese Air cargo plane, in 1977, crashed in Anchorage, Alaska, shortly after taking off. The pilot and his co-pilot, along with a number of workers on board, were killed instantly. The pilot had been seen to have boarded the plane with an unsteady gait and talking to the crew with a slurred speech.
Which raised the question why didn’t anybody stop or report him to the airport police?
Fear of a drunken, raving maniac in the cockpit prompted cabin crewmen and women from time to time to call the attention of authorities. In 2002, two American West pilots were arrested. The cabin crew told authorities they had seen the two drinking beer at a local bar. They didn’t get to fly out that day, but the pilot got a five-year sentence, while the co-pilot served time for two years.
Here, the cabin crew acted to prevent the inebriated pilot and co-pilot. But what about the cabin crew who join in the fun? In 1990, a Northwest Airline flight pilot and his co-pilot—and the entire cabin crew—were arrested after landing. The flight was uneventful, the takeoff and landing were perfect, but they had attended a party where alcohol flowed freely—and consumed—a few hours before. All drew stiff prison sentences.
Fifteen years ago, a Cebu Pacific plane crashed on Mount Sumagaya in Claveria, Misamis Oriental., killing all 104 people on board. There is no reason to believe that the tragedy happened because the pilot was drunk. Neither do we suggest that the mishap a week ago was caused by an inebriated pilot.
All we ask of the legislators is to eliminate drunken flying as a cause of aircraft accident in the air or on the ground.