Montreal — Many commercial airline pilots in the United States have a drinking problems but cannot face up to it, two recovered alcoholic airline pilots say.
Grant B. and Ron D., both of Chicago, said Friday they believe the macho self-image of pilots often prevent them from seeking help for alcohol and drug abuse.
Both pilots were guest speakers at a workshop during the 50th anniversary convention of Alcoholics Anonymous. In keeping with AA’s practice, neither was identified fully.
Grant, 48, a pilot for 22 years with one of the largest U.S. airlines, estimated during an interview that about 10 percent of the 30,000 commercial pilots in the United States have a drinking problem and most won’t admit it.
“Pilots are taught not to quit until someone begins to shovel the dirt in our face when you’re dead,” he said. “When a pilot gets involved in something like alcoholism that is taking his life and he is going to hell, he’ll still maintain that he is doing fine.
“They try to maintain that macho, in control image, but that keeps them in the disease longer,” he said.
Ron, who has been with another large American airline for 31 years, said irregular working hours allow pilots to camouflage their drinking problems.
“Their days off are bunched up together, which affords them time to exaggerate their drinking,’ Ron, 52, said. “But they have enough days off to sober up so they don’t have any symptoms when they show up for work. Their colleagues often have no idea that they have a drinking problem.”
Alcoholic pilots rarely show up to work under the influence of alcohol, both men said. If they did, they would be found out and reported by their coworkers.
Most airlines prohibit flight personnel from taking alcohol or drugs eight hours before a flight or during short layovers.
The only air crash known to have been caused by a pilot being drunk occurred about five years ago near Anchorage, Alaska, when an air freighter crashed and three people were killed.
Until 1975 the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, did not recognize alcoholism as a treatable disease. A pilot who acknowledged he was alcoholic could have his license suspended permanently.
As a result, pilots began an underground AA treatment program known as “Birds of a Feather International.” It has about 2,000 members in six countries, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Ireland, Iceland and West Germany.
Since 1975, the FAA has allowed pilots to return to work after getting treatment for alcohol or drug addiction.
About 50,000 delegates from 50 countries are attending the FAA convention, which ends Sunday.
Article extracted from this publication >> July 12, 1985