BA suspends pilots in alleged 'drink-fly' case

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The Independent Online

British Airways has suspended 11 pilots and three cabin crew while it investigates allegations that they drank alcohol before flights.

British Airways has suspended 11 pilots and three cabin crew while it investigates allegations that they drank alcohol before flights.

BA took the action after an investigation by Channel 4's Dispatches programme, to be aired next week, whose makers were accused of "entrapment" by the pilots' union yesterday.

Channel 4 denied the staff had been trapped and said the programme had proof that airline crew drank "to excess" before reporting for duty.

The suspensions of the flight crew, pending an internal inquiry, is understood to have followed allegations about a series of parties in various hotels in different European countries during which women who said they were former BA stewardesses drank with crew members. The allegations refer to staff employed on short-haul flights mainly flying from Gatwick airport.

Staff were suspended immediately after Channel 4 contacted BA on Friday, although it is understood that the airline had warned staff a month ago of the programme's research.

David Hyde, the airline's director of safety, said: "British Airways takes any potential breach of regulations very seriously. We have launched a formal investigation and have notified the Civil Aviation Authority of the allegations and the actions we are taking."

BA said it had asked the makers of Dispatches to hand over any evidence that would assist the inquiry. "In order not to prejudice any investigation, there will be no public comment on the specific allegations until the conclusion of our inquiry," the airline said.

BA does not operate random testing for alcohol, but has dismissed two pilots in the past five years for drink-related incidents. Pilots and cabin crew are not allowed to consume any alcohol within eight hours of a flight and a maximum of five units (one unit is a small glass of wine) dispersed over the preceding 16 hours.

Staff are also prohibited from drinking while on duty in uniform and must abide by any overseas drinking regulations.

All BA flights are recorded so that bosses can monitor the behaviour of crews on duty.

"There is no suggestion that safety was compromised on any of the flights that followed alleged drinking incidents," Mr Hyde said. "These allegations surprise us but we are erring on the side of caution in removing staff from duty pending an investigation."

Christopher Darke, the general secretary of the British Airline Pilots' Association, accused makers of the Dispatches programme of "underhand and disgraceful journalistic methods". Dispatches had employed ex-cabin crew members to "befriend, entice and entrap" crew and cabin staff, then filmed them secretly and without their consent, he said. The film showed every sign of being "rigged from the start".

Channel 4 had the "so-called evidence" about alleged alcohol abuse in its possession since March, he said. "They chose deliberately and calculatedly to withhold this information from both the Civil Aviation Authority and British Airways.

"If they had hard evidence they should have raised it straight away with the appropriate authorities in the public interest and to allow proper investigations."