A pilot with an airline scheduled to land at the Argyle International Airport when it begins operating on Feb. 14 has been charged after he was allegedly found in the cockpit drunk, with 99 passengers and six crew members aboard.
The arrest of the Sunwing Airlines Inc. pilot in Canada on Saturday came one day after Chief Executive Officer of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority, Glen Beache, announced that the airline would bring passengers on a chartered flight to St. Vincent next month.
Staff Sergeant Paul Stacey told the media in Canada on Saturday that shortly before 7 a.m. that day, a male pilot boarded a Sunwing fight in Calgary that was scheduled to make stops in Regina and Winnipeg before continuing on to Cancun, Mexico.
He said that gate crew and the crew aboard the flight noticed that the pilot was “behaving oddly before he became unconscious in the cockpit”.
Calgary police were called and the pilot was escorted from the aircraft and taken into custody.
Initial tests conducted by the Calgary police indicated that the pilot was “severely impaired by alcohol,” Stacey said.
The pilot has been charged with having care and control of an aircraft while impaired by alcohol and having care and control of an aircraft over .08 — that is exceeding 8 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood.
Stacey said this was more than three times the legal limit.
“It had all the potential for a disaster, but I’ll tell you this much — the likelihood of a pilot on a major airline like this actually being able to take off when they’re impaired like that is pretty slim, because there’s a lot of checks and balances. There’s the other flight crew and there’s gate crew and they’re all about safety,” he said.
He said he expects that more charges will be brought against the pilot, adding, “He won’t be flying anytime soon.”
This is hardly the type of publicity that the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines would want as it prepares to begin operating the EC$729 million Argyle International Airport, five years behind schedule.
Sunwing, along with Caribbean Airlines (CAL) are expected to be the first international carriers to land at the airport, and Beache said Friday that they would arrive about one hour apart on Feb. 14.
CAL will make a chartered flight from JFK, he said, but iWitness News was unsuccessful in its attempts on Monday to get details about that flight.
CAL reservation departments told iWitness News that they have not received any notice about the flight, adding that they didn’t know “just yet” when the notice would be brought to them.
Beache said that return flight would be on Feb. 21.
He said each aircraft can seat about 130 passengers each.
“People will get more details when those tickets go on sale. It’s not confirmed yet but we will be confirming everything in terms of Sunwing. You’d probably be going through Sunwing for those tickets out of Toronto. For CAL, we are speaking to CAL about if they are going to be doing the selling of the tickets or if we have to use one of our tour operators to do it,” he said.
He said he did not see a problem in the tickets being sold out.
“But those who are going to be negative, it’s really time to stop. Get onboard if you still going to argue about whether the airport is needed or not, you really just need to stop.”
But the negativity that Beache spoke about might, in fact, be the reality that notwithstanding his statements over the years about negotiations with airlines being at advanced stages, the airport will begin operations without regular scheduled flights by any major international carrier.
Beache said on Friday that he was still speaking with “some people out of the UK but was not sure how that would go”, in terms of getting a flight from the United Kingdom to Argyle on Feb. 14.