CALGARY — A pilot who passed out in a cockpit before a scheduled flight has pleaded guilty to having control and care of an aircraft while impaired.
Miroslav Gronych was employed by Sunwing Airlines on a work visa from Slovakia. His flight was scheduled to leave Calgary Dec. 31 with stops in Regina and Winnipeg before continuing to Cancun, Mexico.
Gronych was found slumped over in his seat and was escorted off the plane. An agreed statement of facts read in court Tuesday said police saw his pilot's wings were attached upside down on his uniform and a maid discovered an empty bottle of vodka in his hotel room.
The statement said he was an hour late for his check-in and that he explained his tardiness by saying he had become lost going through security.
Court was told Gronych struggled to hang up his coat when he got on the plane, was slurring his words and was staggering.
Court also heard that passengers on the plane were told the pilot had suddenly become ill and needed to leave, but some had already seen him and suspected he was drunk.
The Crown asked the judge for a one-year sentence and pointed to a similar case in the United States where the pilot received five years.
A Sunwing plane lands in Calgary on July 21, 2016.
"The gravity of this offence is extremely high. Mr. Gronych put the lives of 105 people at risk,'' prosecutor Rose Greenwood said.
"Hopefully he will never be permitted to fly again.''
Court heard the pilot has lost his job.
Defence lawyer Susan Karpa said her client recognizes jail time is "likely appropriate'' and is recommending Gronych be sentenced to between three to six months in jail.
"Hopefully he will never be permitted to fly again."
She said Gronych has been in treatment while out on bail, has abstained from alcohol and wants to refrain from drinking for the rest of his life.
"He wants his children to be proud of him,'' Karpa said. "He wants to do everything he can to conquer his addiction."
She said Gronych is the sole breadwinner for his family, including for his elderly parents, and is living off his savings.
Members of a flight crew are prohibited under Canadian aviation regulations from working within eight hours of consuming alcohol or while under the influence of alcohol. It is up to each airline to ensure those regulations are followed.
Employees trained to look for unusual behaviour
Sunwing has said it has a zero tolerance policy on crew members consuming alcohol within 12 hours of going on duty. It said it also trains all employees to look for and report any unusual behaviour.
After Gronych was charged, the Canadian Federal Pilots Association said Transport Canada should be responsible for checking the credentials of foreign pilots instead of leaving it to air operators.
Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau wrote a letter to passenger airlines to express his concern and gave them until Feb. 15 to confirm their measures to ensure flight crew members are fit to fly.
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