British Airways
A British Airways plane taxis at Heathrow Airport in London. Reuters/Luke MacGregor

Police removed a "drunk" pilot from the cockpit of a British Airways aeroplane just minutes before it was scheduled to take off.

The man was arrested by Sussex Police at 8.25pm on Thursday (January 18) on suspicion he was intoxicated. According to one source, cabin crew smelled alcohol on the man prompting them to call police.

The 49-year-old, from Harmondsworth in west London, was taken into custody by police but has not yet been charged.

Officers boarded the aircraft at Gatwick Airport to arrest him "on suspicion of performing an aviation function when the level of alcohol was over the prescribed limit".

One source told The Sun: "Cops rushed on to the plane and headed straight for the cockpit. The first officer was cuffed and led away."

The plane was destined for Mauritius but the 11-hour journey was delayed while the airline looked for a replacement. Flight BA 2063 was scheduled to leave Gatwick's South Terminal at 8.20pm but left later that evening at 11pm, according to official flight records.

"We're taking this matter extremely seriously and are assisting police with their inquiries," British Airways said in a statement.

"We are sorry for the delay to our customers. The aircraft remained at the gate until an alternative third pilot joined the flight crew.

"The safety and security of our customers and crew is always our top priority."