A pilot has been jailed for 10 months for attempting to board a flight from Glasgow to America while drunk.
Carlos Roberto Licona, 45, was due to serve as First Officer on the United Airlines flight to Newark, New Jersey, on Saturday 27 August last year. But he was taken off the plane after security staff smelled alcohol on his breath when he entered the airport. Breath tests revealed he had more than seven times the allowed limit of alcohol in his system.
The co-pilot, from Texas, admitted his guilt over the offence when he appeared at Paisley Sheriff Court and was jailed by Sheriff David Pender. The sheriff said he had reduced the sentence from 15 months because of his guilty plea.
The Boeing 757 flight from Glasgow Airport was grounded for more than nine hours after the pilot was removed.
The court was told alarms sounded when he and his fellow pilots passed through body scanner security checks ahead of the early-morning flight. Security staff became suspicious of the smell of alcohol from Licona and contacted airport police.
Officers took Licona off the flight – in front of 72 of the 144 passengers who had already taken their seats. He was breath-tested and gave a reading of 63microgrammes of alcohol in 100ml of breath – seven-times the 9mcg drink-fly limit.
Licona told the Police Scotland officers at the time: “I had a few beers with lunch yesterday with the rest of the crew and a few with dinner.” However, it emerged that he and a colleague sat up drinking while the rest of the United Airlines workers went to bed – in breach of the airline’s rules on drinking before flying.
A blood sample taken hours after he was removed from the flight showed he was still more than twice the 20mcg blood alcohol level.
Licona admitted breaking Section 93(1)(b) of the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 by having had 48mcg of alcohol in 100ml of blood while he “did perform an activity ancillary to an aviation function”.
The pilot’s defence lawyer, Gordon Jackson QC, said Licona was a family man with a military background prior to becoming a pilot. He said Licona had battled a drink problem for many years and had sought treatment since being arrested. The lawyer said Licona was suspended by his United Airlines and was not being paid – but had not lost his job. He asked the sheriff to spare Licona jail and allow him to finish his alcohol treatment programme.
The sheriff said Licona had taken no steps to deal with his alcohol dependency before his arrest. He ruled that a prison sentence was the only way he could deal with him.
A spokesman for United Airlines said: “We hold all of our employees to the highest standards. This pilot was immediately removed from service and his flying duties in August 2016.”