Asia Minute: Japan Cracking Down on Pilots Who Drink

Nov 19, 2018

Credit Masakatsu Ukon / Flickr

Japan’s government is working on an issue related to travel around the world – including Hawaii. It’s dealing with a problem that has surfaced in more than one case in recent months: airplane pilots and drinking.

Here’s something you might not know about international air travel. There is no agreement on how much alcohol in a pilot’s system is too much — each country sets its own limits.

For Indian pilots, it’s zero tolerance. You can’t drink within 12 hours of flying and you cannot have any alcohol in your bloodstream. In the United States, the limit is half the level for driving – 0.04 percent alcohol in the bloodstream, and no drinking within 8 hours of flying.

Japan has that same time limit on consuming alcohol, but there is no national law on alcohol level in the bloodstream – those limits are up to each airline.

This has been getting attention in the last several weeks, since a Japan Airlines co-pilot was detained by London police after a bus driver at the airport suspected he was drunk. Turns out his blood alcohol level was nearly ten times over the legal limit in Britain.

How did that happen?

On Friday, Japan Airlines told the Japanese government the co-pilot cheated on an in-house breathalyzer test.

Credit Toshi Aoki - JP Spotters /

The BBC reports Japan Airlines has had 19 incidents in the last 15 months where pilots have failed the airline’s alcohol tests.

All Nippon Airways has had similar issues, but fewer.

Japan’s Ministry of Transport is planning to come up with uniform rules about breathalyzer tests, and the use of alcohol.