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8 Hours Between Bottle and Throttle

by John M. White |

From the start we have been told that, when it comes to drink adult beverages, it is "8 hours from bottle to throttle." As it turns out, this rule isn't good enough. Why?Flying Drunk Because in real life people, including some pilots, consume an excessive amount of alcohol and 8 hours is not enough time to eliminate the alcohol from their bloodstream. When you consider that the average, healthy person eliminates pure alcohol at the fairly constant rate of between 1/3 and 1/2 ounces per hour, and recognize that 4 ounces of table wine, 12 ounces of light beer, 1 ounce of vodka and 1 1/4 ounces of whiskey typically contain approximately 1/2 ounces of pure alcohol. So, if someone drank 6 beers and a couple of "shooters", they will have consumed about 4 ounces of pure alcohol. It would take at least 8 hours to remove that amount of alcohol from their system, but even after complete elimination of all of the alcohol in the body, there are undesirable effects - called a "hangover" - which can last for another 48 to 72 hours following the last drink. A hangover effect, produced by alcoholic beverages after the acute intoxication has worn off, may be just as dangerous as the intoxication itself. Symptoms commonly associated with a hangover are headache, dizziness, dry mouth, stuffy nose, fatigue, upset stomach, irritability, impaired judgment, and increased sensitivity to bright light. A pilot with these symptoms would certainly not be fit to safely operate an aircraft. In addition, such a pilot could readily be perceived as being “under the influence of alcohol.” It is important to understand that the majority of these adverse effects produced by alcohol affect the brain, the eyes and the inner ear - 3 very crucial organs for a pilot. The effect on the brain is to impair reaction time, reasoning, judgment and memory, while the eye muscles are subject to muscle imbalance which leads to double vision or difficulty in focusing, and the inner ear impairment contributes to dizziness and decreased hearing. Now add lack of sleep, fatigue, altitude hypoxia, night flight or bad weather, and the effects are magnified. The Federal Aviation Regulation which addresses drinking and flying is FAR Part 91.17, and reads as follows: The use of alcohol and drugs by pilots is regulated by FAR 91.17. Among other provisions, this regulation states that no person may operate or attempt to operate an aircraft: • within 8 hours of having consumed alcohol • while under the influence of alcohol • with a blood alcohol content of 0.04% or greater • while using any drug that adversely affects safety The FAA, however, goes on to recommend that a more conservative approach is to wait 24 hours from the last use of alcohol before flying. They go on to state that this is especially true if intoxication occurred or if you plan to fly IFR. Cold showers, drinking black coffee or breathing 100% oxygen do not speed up the elimination of alcohol from your body. The best advice if you are a pilot is to avoid alcohol - period. Failing that, I think that "48 hours between bottle and throttle" will virtually guarantee that alcohol will not affect your ability to fly an airplane. What do you think? Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7 Better safe than sorry. — Nineteenth-century proverb

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