File picture: Frank Augstein/AP

London - A British Airways pilot was on Tuesday jailed for being drunk in the cockpit – as colleagues claimed that he used to down entire bottles of vodka.

Fellow pilots allegedly used to find empty one-litre bottles of vodka in Julian Monaghan’s lodgings close to Heathrow airport, but a concerned cleaner was ‘talked out’ of reporting him to the airline.

On Tuesday Monaghan, 49, was jailed for eight months for being almost six times the limit as his Boeing 777 prepared to take off for Mauritius with up to 300 passengers on board.

He was hauled out of the jet’s cockpit in handcuffs after a flight technician smelt alcohol on his breath and police were alerted. BA had been warned seven years earlier that Monaghan posed ‘a safety risk’ and was ‘not fit to operate’ after he was involved in a drunken argument in a bar.

The airline argued that this was an isolated incident and did not constitute a warning he was unfit to fly planes.

But yesterday BA insiders said Monaghan was a known heavy drinker. ‘There is a pilots’ “dosshouse” on the Bath Road opposite Heathrow which has five bedrooms and pilots can bed down there on the night before a flight,’ a source said.

‘It’s a convenient place to get some rest before a long-haul flight. Then they usually go straight to the airport and report for duty. After Mr Monaghan stayed there, empty vodka bottles – one-litre ones – were often found. It became a routine discovery and the cleaner eventually twigged and was all for reporting it to BA, but was talked out of it.

‘It seems that pilot colleagues must have realised there was a problem with this guy, so someone was covering up for him. You can’t just turn a blind eye to something like that. It goes beyond being loyal to a friend and colleague.’

Yesterday Lewes Crown Court heard how father-of-two Monaghan boarded the evening BA flight from Gatwick airport at 8pm on January 18 having been ‘unable to sleep’ all day following a night flight the previous evening from Cape Town.

The first officer later told police he had drunk a glass of wine on that flight followed by three vodka miniatures and Pepsi in his Gatwick hotel room at 10.15am to ‘help him sleep’. Pilots must follow a strict ‘bottle to throttle’ policy meaning they are not allowed to drink for eight hours before a flight. Amy Packham, prosecuting, told the court that police were called as passengers were boarding.

Monaghan was breathalysed after being taken off the flight he was found to have 52 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath. The legal limit for a pilot is nine. The drink-drive limit is 35 micrograms.

At an earlier hearing, Monaghan, who divides his time between a home in South Africa and West London, admitted reporting for duty as a pilot while over the limit.

Commenting on the empty bottles allegation last night, BA said: ‘We have never received any such claim. We have very strict rules about alcohol consumption ahead of a flight, and the safety and security of our customers and colleagues is always our top priority. This behaviour is completely unacceptable and not what we expect from our highly professional fleet of pilots.’