A Japan Airlines co-pilot has been jailed for ten months after being caught more than nine times over the alcohol limit as was about to take off from Heathrow.

Judge Phillip Matthews condemned 42-year-old Katsutoshi Jitsukawa, saying the prospect of him flying the aircraft was “too appalling to contemplate”.

Jitsukawa was caught after security noticed he smelled of alcohol, appeared drunk and had “glazed eyes”. An officer later noticed he had “difficulty standing straight”.

He was arrested on October 28 at the airport after failing a breath test 50 minutes before the Jal flight to Tokyo was due to depart with him in the cockpit.

He was found to have 189mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood in his system – the legal limit for a pilot is 20mg.

The drink-drive limit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 80mg per 100ml of blood.

Jitsukawa, appearing at Isleworth Crown Court, admitted to one count of performing an aviation function when his ability was impaired through alcohol.

He said he felt an “abject disgrace”.

The judge described the co-pilot, who has since lost his job, as “very intoxicated” ahead of the flight, the BBC reported.

“You are an experienced pilot but you had clearly been drinking for a long period up to a time shortly before you were due to go into that plane,” he said.

“Most important is the safety of all persons on board that very long-haul flight, potentially 12 hours or more. Their safety was put at risk by your inebriation and drunkenness.

“The prospect of you taking over control of that aircraft is too appalling to contemplate. The potential consequences for those on board was catastrophic.”

The judge suggested Jitsukawa put colleagues in a position of either performing a “cover up” or reporting him to superiors.

Speaking outside court, the carrier’s vice president Yasuhiro Kikuchi denied Jitsukawa’s colleagues acted improperly.

“As an organisation we are going to work together to prevent this happening again,” he said.

Prosecutor Douglas Adams said that after he was challenged by security staff on the aircraft, Jitsukawa said he drank whisky the night before but had already passed a breathalyser test.

After Jitsukawa said he needed to get his blazer from the aircraft, the security manager followed him on to find him in the toilet rinsing and gargling his mouth with mouthwash, the prosecutor said.

The Boeing 777 holding up to 244 passengers, departed for Tokyo after a 69-minute delay.

Bill Emlyn Jones, defending, said Jitsukawa had become depressed.

“It would seem he used alcohol as a means of self-medication,” the lawyer said.

The pilot feels “abject disgrace” and wishes to apologise to the airline, passengers and his family “for the shame he had brought upon them”, he added.