Singapore Airlines’ early morning flight SQ247 from Melbourne to Wellington, New Zealand, was cancelled last Saturday because the pilot failed a blood alcohol test before takeoff – which was particularly disturbing news for passengers heading to the All Blacks vs Springboks Rugby Union test in Wellington that evening.

Other passengers were concerned as well.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) conducts random drug and alcohol tests on pilots, just as the police in several Australian states carry out random breath tests on drivers. In the Singapore Airlines case, the alcohol test result prompted the cancellation of two flights, the outbound Melbourne-Wellington flight on Saturday and the return Wellington-Melbourne leg.

In the 2017-18 financial year, CASA conducted 12,130 drug and alcohol tests and received eight positive results, according to aviation quality and safety website

Of the positive results, only three were for alcohol and five were for drugs, including three for codeine.

The latest case, involving a Singapore Airlines B777-200 aircraft, is an embarrassment for the airline, which has a well-earned reputation for safety. The Melbourne-Wellington leg was cancelled, as was the return leg. The pilot was returned to Singapore immediately and suspended pending a full investigation by the airline as well as by regulatory bodies in both countries.

Australian law sets the blood alcohol limit for pilots at 0.02 grams of alcohol per 100ml of blood, so it’s quite possible for a pilot to be within the legal limit to drive yet over the limit to fly.

Singapore Airlines worked with passengers to find suitable alternative travel arrangements, booking passengers heading for the rugby match on other carriers. Not all passengers were lucky and some missed the match – which ended in a narrow and rare defeat for the All Blacks on their home turf and a heroic win for the Springboks.

Passengers not attending the game were put up in Melbourne hotels overnight and flown to Wellington the following day.

Singapore Airlines spokesman Karl Schubert told the flight had been cancelled because “an operating crew member was deemed unfit to fly”, having a “higher than suitable blood alcohol limit”.

Written by Peter Needham