Skip to content

Case of pilot facing impaired charge shocks aviation expert

Pilot facing impaired charge shocks expert

CALGARY — A veteran aviation safety expert says the case of a pilot allegedly passed out drunk in the cockpit shortly before scheduled takeoff from Calgary is the worst suspected incident of its type he's heard of.

Calgary police have charged Miroslav Gronych, a 37-year-old Slovakian national, with having care and control of an aircraft while impaired and with a blood alcohol level above .08.

Court documents show Gronych has been released on $1,000 bail and was ordered to turn in his passport. He is also prohibited from flying a plane in Canada while on bail.

He's set to appear in court on Thursday.

The Boeing 737 operated by Sunwing was scheduled to leave Calgary early Saturday with stops in Regina and Winnipeg before continuing on to Cancun, Mexico. Police allege Gronych, the captain, was found slumped over in his seat and then escorted off the plane.

Edward McKeogh, with Canadian Aviation Safety Consultants, said it's the worst alleged incident of its type he's heard of and raise concerns about airport scrutiny.

If he's found guilty, McKeogh said he hopes "this individual will be sent for some serious counselling and rehab before he is cleared to fly again."

McKeogh's company talks to flight crews about safety throughout their careers.

"We don't talk at all about mixing drinking and flying because that is so obviously a no-no to all responsible people that it need not be discussed."

It's against in the law in Canada for a flight crew to work within eight hours of consuming alcohol, according to Transport Canada.

But McKeogh said most airlines have their own rules that go above and beyond that, with most requiring 12 hours between bottle and throttle.

That is the case with Sunwing, airline spokeswoman Jacqueline Grossman said in an emailed statement.

"Sunwing Airlines has a zero tolerance policy on alcohol consumption within 12 hours of duty and any crew member suspected of violating this policy would be removed from duty pending an investigation."

Grossman said Sunwing employs about 350 Canadian pilots and contracts up to 60 foreign pilots due to the highly seasonal Canadian vacation industry.

Canadian pilots work in Europe under similar arrangements.

"While the vast majority of Sunwing's pilots are Canadian, it is important to note that all pilots operating in Canada must be qualified to do so," said Grossman.

Foreign pilots are licensed by the European Aviation Safety Agency and receive a foreign license validation from Transport Canada.

"In addition, all foreign pilots receive training and are approved by Sunwing flight operations training department before being approved to fly Sunwing aircraft."

As well, Grossman said all pilots must have a minimum number of commercial flight hours on a Boeing 737 aircraft before they're allowed to fly a Sunwing plane.

Days before the Sunwing incident, another case of an allegedly intoxicated pilot made headlines in Indonesia.

Passengers reportedly became concerned when they heard slurred announcements coming from the cockpit of a plane operated by budget carrier Citilink last Wednesday. An online video shows the pilot appearing to stumble through a security checkpoint.

The pilot has been fired and two executives with the carrier have resigned as a result.

— With files from the Associated Press

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press