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Drunk airline pilot 'put hundreds of lives at risk'
A drunk airline pilot who admitted being four times over the legal limit after he was arrested in the cockpit as he was about to fly from Leeds Bradford Airport ‘put hundreds of lives at risk’, a magistrate said.
Captain Irfan Faiz, 54, pleaded guilty to intending to fly while being impaired by alcohol when he appeared at Leeds Magistrates’ Court yesterday.
The court heard he arrived at the airport in Yeadon on Wednesday to fly the PK 776 flight to Pakistan when staff noticed he was unsteady on his feet and smelling of drink.
He was arrested after boarding the Airbus 310 to carry out pre-flight checks before heading to Islamabad.
The Pakistan International Airlines plane with 180 passengers on board had been due to leave at 10pm, but no replacement pilot was available and passengers spent the night in a hotel before the flight eventually left 15 hours late.
James McAuley, the chairman of the magistrates’ bench, told Faiz he had breached the trust of the public and his actions could have resulted in “serious loss of life”.
He praised the actions of airport managers who had spotted Faiz’s drunken condition.
Faiz was refused bail and remanded in custody to appear at Leeds Crown Court on October 18 for sentencing.
Magistrates heard heard the drama began when airport managers contacted police who arrested Faiz in the cockpit.
He was charged with ‘carrying out an activity ancillary to an aviation function while impaired by drink’, to which he pleaded guilty.
Mr McAuley told him: “By your actions you breached the trust of the public who must be comfortable that when they travel they are safe to travel.
“The consequences could have been serious loss of life if an accident had occurred.
“Thankfully, the actions of the managers at Leeds Bradford Airport prevented that.”
Martin Townend, prosecuting, stressed the gravity of the offence, stating: “There was a potential that the plane would have been flown by a drunk pilot”.
He added that suspicions had been raised at the airport when "a number of managers noticed Mr Faiz was unsteady on his feet and smelled of intoxicants".
Yousuf Khan, representing the pilot, asked if the case could be dealt with by the magistrates – which would have meant a maximum possible sentence of six months in prison.
He said: “He is 54 and effectively his career will be over which is, in effect, a punishment as is the shame he will experience when he returns to Pakistan.”
The court heard that Faiz had flown with Pakistan International Airlines for 25 years with an unblemished record, and had no previous convictions.
But the magistrates decided the case was so serious it would have to be sentenced at crown court, and refused to grant bail.
Bradford Council for Mosques has condemned Pakistani national Faiz for his actions.
Its president Mohammed Rafiq Sehgal said: “I find it unbelievable that a professional pilot of a major international airline could behave so despicably as to place at risk the life of passengers and colleagues.
“We will be raising this matter with the management of PIA and the Pakistan High Commission. We will ask for robust measures to prevent the repeat of this type of behaviour. The passenger safety must come first. “ “This is a most disgraceful and callous behaviour placing at risk the lives of hundreds of passengers.
“The incident is shameful and embarrassment for the Pakistan International Airline management whiles a major safety concern for the travelling public.”
A spokesman for the state-owned airline, which has a no-alcohol policy on its flights, said Faiz faced being sacked when the court proceedings were completed.
“He is already grounded and suspended and after sentencing his career may well be terminated, even if he does appeal.
“If he does appeal he will do so without any assistance, he would have to fight his own case,” the spokesman said.
A Bradford woman whose family were among the plane’s passengers said he had “brought shame on Pakistan”.
She said: “I do not know if the pilot is a Muslim or not, and I don’t care, but he has brought shame on Pakistan.
“Lots of things have done that before, but he has put the icing on the cake – he needs to be sacked.
“I think he is a fool who could have risked flying an eight-hour journey and killing 180 people.
“Someone with power and authority should not get drunk – it is wrong.”
She continued: “When you’re a Muslim, you’re not meant to put another person in harm.”
The woman’s aunt was on the plane with seven other family members travelling to attend a funeral, which they missed because of the flight’s resulting delay.