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Sun, Dec 05, 2004

Drunk Finnair Pilot Sentenced

British court sends pilot Heikki Tallila to jail for six months

On August 23, Heikki Tallila, a 51-year-old pilot for Finland's national airline Finnair, got off a taxi that had brought him to Manchester Airport. He was scheduled to fly one of the airline's Boeing 757's to Turkey. Just a short while later, while he was performing his preflight checks, airport authorities boarded the aircraft and escorted him off the flight.

Acting on a tip from the taxi driver, Tallila was then administered a blood alcohol content test, under a law that had been enacted just a few months prior, in March, that gives police the authority to test pilots and cabin crew suspected of flying under the influence. The pilot clocked over two and a half times the legal limit, and was immediately arrested.

Tallila has now been sentenced to six months in prison by British Justice John Burke. "If you had been a mere passenger causing problems and interfering with your fellow passengers and crew and misbehaving you would have gone to prison," he told the Tallila, according to the Associated Press. "In your case the passengers did not even appreciate their safety was in jeopardy. They assumed their safety was in good hands."

Evidence presented by the prosecution showed that Tallila didn't just get drunk -- he'd had as many as seven glasses of wine and a beer the same afternoon he was scheduled to fly. The consequences for the pilot and his family have been nothing short of dire. After 25 years with the airline and a salary of some $180,000, he was fired. His wife also works as a flight attendant for Finnair, and though she has been lucky to keep her job, both her and her husband have been the subject to a great deal of public humiliation.

"This has been a very public humiliation. This has impacted very highly on this individual. The financial consequences have been hard," said attorney Gerard McDermott. According to McDermott, Tallila now regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous sessions and is under counseling for substance abuse.

FMI: www.finnair.com

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