'The system definitely failed' in case of allegedly drunk pilot: aviation safety expert

There should have been plenty of opportunity to stop a pilot accused of passing out drunk in the cockpit before he boarded a Sunwing Airlines flight in Calgary, says an American aviation safety specialist.

Keith Mackey says there should have been plenty of warning before Sunwing pilot boarded plane in Calgary

Sunwing pilot Miroslav Gronych is a foreign national from Slovakia in Canada on a work visa. He is accused of passing out drunk in the cockpit of a Sunwing Airlines flight in Calgary Saturday morning. (Novy Cas/Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia)

A pilot accused of passing out drunk in the cockpit of a Sunwing Airlines flight in Calgary should have never been allowed on board, says an American aviation safety specialist.

The pilot, Miroslav Gronych, has been charged after he allegedly passed out from intoxication in the cockpit of a plane he was to fly to Cancun, Mexico, on Dec. 31, with 99 passengers and six crew members aboard on Dec. 31. The pilot is scheduled to make a court appearance in Calgary on Thursday.

Keith Mackey, president of Mackey International, says there would have been "plenty" of opportunities before the pilot stepped on the plane for flight crew to flag any unusual behaviour.

The following is an edited transcription of the interview with CBC Radio host David Gray as Mackey, who is also a former commercial airline pilot, weighed in on the incident Wednesday on the Calgary Eyeopener:

Q: Can you walk me through what happens before an airline pilot gets into the cockpit?

A: Well, I will assume that this crew — flight attendants, pilot and co-pilot — came from a hotel and they would have rode together in a van or something to the airport. So there was plenty of opportunity for the rest of the crew to observe his performance.

Calgary police charged Miroslav Gronych with being impaired while in control of an aircraft. The Sunwing pilot has been released on bail but ordered to surrender his passport. (iStock)

Then, you have to get on the airplane and before you do that, you have to communicate with the airline. They need to know how much fuel you want, you have to review the flight plan, you have to sign the release. Once you get on board the aircraft you have to program the inertial navigation system and do a lot of other functions like that.

So my question is, 'Why didn't anybody notice this beforehand?' If this guy blew three times the limit two hours he was taken off — this wasn't the first time he had a drink. So was this man a chronic alcoholic? We get a lot of unanswered questions on this one.

Q: Apparently it was the gate crew who noticed something was wrong. Shouldn't they have prevented him from boarding the plane in the first place?

A: Why did the gate crew have to discover it? It should have easily been discovered by the flight crew well before he became involved with the gates.

The co-pilot has been with him since he left the hotel. The co-pilot had to coordinate the flight with him....

Q: What role does airport security play in this type of situation?

A: Of course, they'd go through the security checkpoint. You can walk through there kind of fast and generally they don't pay a great deal of attention to crews.

The system definitely failed.- Keith Mackey, aviation safety specialist

But I don't think the security checkpoint is the problem. I think the problem is Canada doesn't have any drug or alcohol testing.

Q: Transport Canada says it's up to individual airlines to test their own pilots. Is that the best system?

A: No, I don't think so. I think they have to have a system like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States where it's a mandated, required system by Transport Canada.

Keith Mackey is president of the aviation safety firm, Mackey International, and a former commercial airline pilot. (Mackay International)

In the U.S., our limit for alcohol is .04. In Canada, you're the same as the driving limit, .08.

So if we were taking him off that airplane in the U.S., he would have been six times over the limit two hours after he was removed from the cockpit.

What would have happened if this pilot had been a little less drunk? Apparently, nobody was gonna stop him. The rest of the crew was going to go with him and he was going to fly the airplane. It's just lucky that he was so drunk that he passed out, and that's when they removed him.

The system definitely failed.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener