The captain of a Virgin Atlantic flight was arrested in front of passengers and hauled off his plane after police suspected him of being drunk.
Officers from Scotland Yard handcuffed the 47-year-old pilot moments before take-off after being tipped off by security staff at Heathrow Airport.
The pilot, who earns around £120,000-a-year, was then breathalysed as more than 300 passengers on board flight VS003 waited to take off to New York.
Virgin Atlantic, which is run by Sir Richard Branson, has suspended the captain until the results of a blood test are produced.
If it emerges that there is alcohol in his blood, he will be charged and sent to court.
Police made the arrest on Saturday at 8.59am as the Airbus 340 was standing in Terminal 3. The incident forced Virgin to delay the flight for an hour while a replacement pilot was found.
Last night, a spokesman for Scotland Yard said: "Officers at Heathrow Airport arrested a 47-year-old male pilot on board a Virgin Atlantic flight to JFK."
The police confirmed that he had been arrested on suspicion of being over the legal alcohol limit for flying a plane. He has been granted bail until a date in May.
There are strict laws surrounding the consumption of alcohol for pilots and air crew. They are told that they must not drink any alcohol eight hours before they fly and can only consume a small amount 24 hours before they fly.
The limit for flying is nine micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath. The drink-drive limit is 35 micrograms.
Last night a spokesman for Virgin Atlantic confirmed that one of its pilots had been released on police bail in connection with an allegation made on Saturday.
"The pilot was due to operate a flight from Heathrow Airport - the aircraft had not left the gate," he said.
'Virgin Atlantic would like to apologise for the inconvenience caused and would like to reassure passengers that the airline will be investigating this matter thoroughly in accordance with its strict company policies in relation to operational staff.
"The safety and
security of its passengers and crew is Virgin
Atlantic’s top priority. As the matter is part of an ongoing police
inquiry we cannot comment in any further detail at this stage.