Among all those flight disruptions, cancellations and union strikes these days… one recent incident surely stands out. Singapore Airlines (SIA) flight between Melbourne, in southeastern Australia, and New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, was cancelled on the morning of September 15, 2018, after a pilot allegedly failed a random alcohol test.

Flight SQ247 was scheduled to depart from Melbourne Airport (MEL), at 7am local time and arrive at Wellington International Airport (WLG) at 12.20pm. That is a scheduled Friday-Sunday, and Tuesday, non-stop journey between the two cities on a Boeing 777, taking about 3h 30min to complete.

However, this particular journey was stopped in its tracks when Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) undertook a random drug and alcohol test of all crew aboard SIA’s flight SQ247. After the pilot failed the alcohol test, the Boeing 777’s take-off was abruptly cancelled. The return flight SQ248 had to be canceled as well, the airline stated, according to The Straits Times.

SIA spokesman Karl Schubert confirmed that the flight had been cancelled because “an operating crew member was deemed unfit to fly,” he was quoted as saying by news.com.au. According to Schubert, the “Civil Aviation Safety Authority officials undertook a random drug and alcohol test of all crew prior to them starting their pre-flight checks. The pilot in question did not pass the test due to having a higher than suitable blood alcohol limit.”

The pilot has since been suspended from all operations effective immediately, the airline insists, and now awaits an investigation by the authorities. Schubert confirmed that, “He has returned to Singapore where a full investigation will be undertaken. We [SIA] will also work closely with the Australian and Singaporean authorities to ensure they are supplied the information they require.”

No tests, no problem

The issue is that the random drug and alcohol test on the now-suspended pilot, was conducted by Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority. SIA, on its part, does not conduct random substance or alcohol testing. So what is the airline’s policy?

Responding to a query by AeroTime, SIA spokesperson said on September 18, 2018, that the airline’s flight crew are prohibited from consuming alcohol within 10 hours from their flight duty.

“They are also encouraged to highlight any concerns they may have regarding the well-being and safety of our customers, fellow crew members and the aircraft they are operating in,” SIA’s spokesperson said.

Although no random alcohol or substance tests are undertaken by SIA, the airline assures that, “[...] our flight crew are required to undergo any drug and alcohol tests by the relevant authorities,” and that, “[…] our pilots also undergo a stringent medical check annually to ensure that they are fit to operate an aircraft.”

We wonder whether this incident will prompt a change of policy at SIA regarding the screening for substances and alcohol of their flight and cabin crew.

No mercy on social media

Amid all the media frenzy regarding this story, SIA is now on a course of damage control. Remember all those passengers on board flight SQ247? Well, they have taken to social media to express their outrage, slamming the airline and accusing its staff of “lying”.

One passenger on board the Melbourne to Wellington flight said he was lied to by the airline’s crew about the condition of the pilot. Muteki recounts passengers waiting to board the aircraft when an announcement from the crew indicated there was a problem. The passengers were reportedly told that a crew member was “under the weather”.

“[...] Then 15 minutes later they said it was the captain. All the communication was that the pilot was ‘sick’ or ‘not in the condition to fly’. Later, when I spoke to airline staff, they told me the pilot had eaten something bad,” Muteki told the news.com.au. “That was a clear lie,” he said.

Check this tweet on SIA's official social media account::

@SingaporeAir care to try to explain why your captain (ie most experienced person on the aircraft) of SQ247 waits until boarding time to decide they’re too ill/drunk to fly? Will miss the 1st #allblacks #rugby match I bought tickets for and flew to WLG from NRT to see

https://twitter.com/M_iikun/status/1040757097208508421

In following tweets, Muteki says he was stuck at the airport for more than six hours, and had no information on how to rebook his flight or to leave the airport.

Meanwhile, SIA highlights that the safety of its passengers and crew are of “utmost importance,” and that substance or alcohol abuse “will not be tolerated.” Singapore's flag carrier has also apologized to its customers, however, without mentioning the pilot or the crew’s performance.

This is what SIA’s spokesperson provided AeroTime: “We sincerely apologize to those affected by the cancellation of these flights. However, the safety of our customers and crew is our highest priority.” Adding that, the airline has “worked with customers whose travel was inconvenienced to find suitable alternate travel arrangements as quickly as possible” (tell that to Muteki).

SIA has not yet released any official statement on the incident.

 

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An emergency descent made by an Air China passenger plane after the cabin lost pressure on July 10, 2018, attributed to the co-pilot smoking in the cockpit.