62yo American Airlines pilot guilty of being drunk before a flight

by Kim Boateng Posted on April 12th, 2019

American Airlines pilot David Copeland, 62, could face jail after admitting putting hundreds of lives at risk by turning up to Manchester Airport too drunk to fly.

An American pilot could face jail after he admitted putting hundreds of lives at risk when he was caught over the drinking limit for flying.

David Copeland from Pennsylvania, US, who works as a pilot for American Airlines, was pulled over by security at Manchester Airport in February because they wanted to check his hand luggage.

Security guard Jordan Fletcher found Copeland, due to fly to Philadelphia, was ‘unstable on his feet’ and he could smell alcohol on his breath.

Police were called and he failed a breath test and then a subsequent blood test at a nearby police station.

The court heard he had 27ml of alcohol per 100ml of blood, which is 7ml over the limit – but less than half the drink-drive limit.

He appeared at Manchester Magistrates Court today where he pleaded guilty to performing an aviation task while intoxicated.

District Judge Mark Hadfield condemned Copeland for putting people’s lives at risk.

Judge Hadfield said: ‘Almost always a jail sentence is passed in these cases, not just because of the inconvenience caused, but because passengers are put at risk.

‘He has put hundreds of people at risk. You are going to struggle to convince me to deal with it in this court.’

Prosecuting, Andrew Hey, said: ‘On February 7 of this year, Jordan Fletcher was working at Manchester Airport as a security officer. He had reason to speak to this defendant regarding hand luggage.

‘Mr Fletcher said that, during his dealings, he asked the defendant various questions and he could smell intoxicants on his breath. He said he was acting in a peculiar manner and looked unstable on his feet.

‘He informed his manager who called the police. PC Greenfield attended and he spoke to the pilot of the flight from Manchester to Philadelphia which was sat on the runway.

‘He called to the defendant discreetly to ask him to leave the cockpit. The defendant said that he had alcohol 12 hours ago and had a coffee in the last 20 minutes.

‘A sample of breath was taken which read ‘Air Fail’. He was taken to a police station where he blood was taken which read 27mg per 100ml of blood – the legal limit is 20ml.’

He was due to fly from Manchester Airport, pictured, to Philadelphia in February

Mitigating, Jane Novas-Morell said: ‘It’s largely unprecedented. This is an extremely low reading, 0.27 in blood, which equates to about 13ml in breath by my calculation.

‘This defendant has pleaded guilty at the first opportunity. I would respectfully submit that this is, realistically, a case that could be dealt with by way of a fine.

‘He was not largely over the limit, and experts have said he would have past the test if it was taken 30 minutes later. I also think it’s unrealistic that they smelt it on his breath.’

Sending the case to crown court for sentencing, Judge Hadfield said: ‘You’re not going to smell alcohol on your own breath. Given the risk that created, and I imagine on a long haul flight that numerous people would have been put at risk, it’s a Crown Court matter.

‘David Copeland, you have pleaded guilty to a very serious offence at the earliest opportunity. In my view, it’s far too serious for this court, so it’s going to be a Crown Court sentence.’

David Copeland will appear at Minshull Street Crown Court, Manchester, on May 8 for sentencing.

Image: The court heard Copeland, pictured, was stopped by security to check his luggage but that they then found him ‘unsteady on his feet’ and he subsequently failed breath and blood checks

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Kim Boateng

Kim Boateng

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