Can Nordics manage both: trust and control

We have followed the progress regarding alcohol and flying. There is a long list of harms that someone´s drinking during flight can cause to others. But the most dangerous is when the pilot´s judgement is impaired due to alcohol. And from time to time we read about these incidents where pilots have been arrested for coming to work with alcohol on their blood system.

I guess we can be sure that the airline companies have strict policies and regulations that make it impossible for a drunk pilot to actually fly the plane. When bus companies for instance already introduce alcolock systems, that should be self-evident for travel up in the air, or not?

Earlier this year The Telegraph asked if the flying profession have an alcohol problem. While it is clear that all airlines have zero-tolerance towards alcohol and flying it appears that the enforcement part is a bit unclear. For instance, in the UK, there is no random testing in place. The only way to detect an impaired pilot is if someone, the co-pilot or someone from the crew, reports about it.

Commenting the possibility to introduce breathalysing system, Dr Rob Hunter of the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) answered: “We believe this testing could lead to emotional distress of pilots”.

That would quite justifiably cause some emotional distress among travellers, doesn´t it?

If that is the case in UK, how are Nordic airline companies doing? We asked from SAS and Finnair. And as we heard there is no common Nordic way of doing it.

Arja Suominen from Finnair: “Finnair security culture is very strong and it is part of the DNA of our every employee. At the same time, our company culture based on Nordic values, such as trust, empowerment and self-discipline. Therefore we do not have random checks. At the same time, if we have the slightest doubt we have a right to test the crew whenever we so desire. In these cases, we will also co-operate with the local police. In addition, alcohol usage is also discussed in the regular check-ups.”

SAS, on the other hand, does implement random breath testing. Fredrik Henriksson from SAS: “SAS has a zero alcohol tolerance in connection with service, carry out random breath tests. Security is always our top priority and any violation of SAS’s zero alcohol tolerance policy, which can have consequences for employment. The maximum limit is 0.02 or less at the latest 8 hours prior to duty.”

So, there is a different view on enforcement and on what the Nordic way in this context should be. Trust is important, but what if that trust is broken?

Lauri Beekmann
Executive director, NordAN