A pilot who flew an executive jet from Spain while hungover after a three-day drinking binge has been jailed in England.
Ian Jennings, 47, from Gale Moor Avenue, Gosport, Hampshire, England, was arrested at Norwich Airport after landing a commercial chartered plane carrying millionaire scrap metal mogul Andre Serruys along with a woman and three teenage girls.
When police breathtested Jennings on October 30, he smelt strongly of alcohol and seemed nervous, Norwich Crown Court heard.
He was found to be three times the legal limit for a pilot.
Jennings, who admitted flying while the alcohol in his breath was over the prescribed limit at an earlier hearing, claimed he had only drunk three pints of lager the night before but was told by Judge Stephen Holt that this claim “did not add up”.
His barrister accepted Jennings may have fallen foul of “topping up” after several days of heavy drinking to celebrate his engagement.
Prosecutor Chris Youell said Jennings had reported for work at 8am that morning and there was no evidence he had consumed alcohol that day.
He was not breathalysed until after 2pm.
Sentencing him to nine months in prison, Judge Holt said: “Some eight or nine hours earlier you must have been considerably higher than the level detected.
“You must have been drinking considerably the night before you went to the airport.
“The public must have 100% confidence that pilots in this country are 100% sober.
“The devastation you could have wreaked, not only to passengers but also on the ground, goes without saying.
“It is my duty to send the clear message that any pilot who commits this kind of offence must expect an immediate custodial sentence.”
On the morning of the incident, Jennings had acted as captain while a co-pilot flew the Canadair CL601-3A Challenger from Oxford to Palma in Majorca.
Once there, Jennings took the controls and flew to Norwich.
Somebody on board the flight became suspicious that he had been drinking and contacted the police.
Officers detected 31 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 militres of breath – the limit for pilots is nine microgrammes while the limit for drivers is 35.
Marcus Crosskell, mitigating, said Jennings had recently ended a period of flying out of Africa where he had been under pressure because of the Ebola epidemic.
Mr Crosskell added: “He is not a gentleman who habitually drinks or has a drink problem.
“But having ended a stint in Africa there was a period of celebration.
“He had got engaged that week and been out for various dinners and events and had been drinking alcohol in the three days leading up to the offence.
“The night before he had not drank excessive amounts of alcohol but he had been drinking heavily that week and may have been at the point where he was simply topping it up.”
The court heard Jennings, who has 20 years experience as a pilot, began his career on an RAF scholarship after developing a love for aerobatic flying.
He was described as having an exemplary record.
Mr Crosskell added: “He is a gentleman who has lost his distinguished career and his reputation.”
His licence has been suspended by the Civil Aviation Authority.