The female captain of a Qantas Airways (QF) Boeing 767-300 twin-engine jet was removed from the cockpit of the plane shortly before she was scheduled to takeoff on a domestic flight from Sydney to Brisbane, Australia, according to reports published on Monday, August 6, 2012 by the Daily Mail, The Straits Times, Channel NewsAsia (CNA), and other global news outlets.
The airline has suspended the senior crew member, 1 of about 100 female pilots out of a total 2,200 flight crew members employed by the Australian carrier, after she tested positive for alcohol.
Qantas has a policy of zero tolerance for alcohol use by active duty staff members, regardless of the blood levels detected. Flight attendants had apparently suspected that the pilot was impaired, and reported the situation to the carrier's operation center just after the plane was pushed back from the gate and was taxiing toward departure.
It is believed that as many as 254 passengers were aboard the crowded aircraft for the 453 mile trip to the Gold Coast city in Queensland.
After the jet returned to the gate at Kingsford-Smith Airport (SYD), a substitute pilot was assigned to replace the suspended flight officer, who remains docked from operational duties on full pay. The airline has informed the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) of the incident, which is conducting a full investigation that is expected to take about a month to complete.
There is no information if the copilot was involved in reporting the incident.
Testing of the captain was done internally by the airline under its drug and alcohol management plan, and any possible disciplinary action will rest entirely with the carrier. In the event that the situation was unique first offense, it is likely that the pilot will undergo counselling followed by a subsequent medical assessment to determine her fitness to fly again.
Qantas has restricted its comments on the sensitive situation because it involves personnel matter, saying only that "A Qantas captain was withheld from service for administrative reasons. The matter is being investigated and it would be inappropriate to comment further." The CASA has also released a general statement, saying, "Anyone found to be affected by alcohol or drugs while performing, or when they are available to perform, safety-sensitive aviation activities will automatically be suspended from duties."
All commercial carriers have policies dealing with impaired flight crew members. Pilots for Air India, United Airlines, and Delta Air Lines have all been suspended because of various incidents in which they were found to be under the influence of alcohol while preparing to command a scheduled flight.
It is a rare situation, but one which can sadly end an aviator's career