American Eagle pilot fails alcohol test before take-off
Published Saturday, January 5, 2013 11:53AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, January 5, 2013 12:05PM EST
An American Eagle pilot was suspended after he failed a blood-alcohol test administered as he prepared to fly Friday morning from Minneapolis to New York City, authorities say.
A Transportation Security Administration agent and officers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport smelled alcohol as they passed the pilot while he was waiting to get on an elevator.
The pilot was conducting pre-flight checks at about 6 a.m. when police boarded the aircraft, airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said.
Officers made the pilot take a breath test. He was then arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of alcohol, Hogan said.
The arrest was made before passengers boarded the flight destined to New York's LaGuardia Airport.
Horgan told CTVNews.ca Saturday morning that charges against the pilot are pending the results of blood tests.
The results are not expected for about three weeks, Hogan said.
Preliminary results from the breath test were well over the legal limit, Hogan said, but he declined to release the specifics, citing the ongoing investigation.
Police identified the pilot as 48-year-old Kolbjorn Jarle Kristiansen.
Federal rules prohibit pilots from flying within eight hours of drinking alcohol or if they have a blood-alcohol level of 0.04 or higher, half the level allowed for motorists.
The pilot was taken to Fairview Southdale Hospital to have a blood sample taken, then was returned to airport police before being released, Hogan said.
Matt Miller, a spokesman for American Airlines, told The Associated Press that the pilot has been suspended pending an investigation.
American Airlines uses American Eagle to operate shorter connecting flights,
Miller said the company is co-operating with authorities and will conduct an internal investigation.
The flight, with 53 passengers on board, was delayed about 2 1/2 hours while a replacement pilot was arranged, Miller said. It arrived in New York after the noon hour.
AP reports that a woman who answered the phone at a North Carolina number listed in Kristiansen's name referred inquiries to the Air Line Pilots Association, his union.
She said he has been a member of the union for 23 years, but she declined further comment or to identify herself.
Messages left with union officials were not immediately returned, AP reports.
Pilots face drug and alcohol testing when they seek a job, are involved in an accident or return from alcohol rehabilitation. Some are selected for random tests. More than 10,000 pilots are tested each year and about a dozen flunk the alcohol part -- a number that has remained mostly steady for more than a decade, according to federal statistics.
Twelve pilots failed the breath test in 2011, 10 in 2010, and 11 in 2009, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
James Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told AP that most airlines and other transportation companies now have effective programs to identify and get treatment for employees with drug or alcohol problems.
But, he said, an incident like Friday's should lead to a re-examination of protocols, including the 0.04 standard to testing procedures.
"Your odds of having an impaired driver on the highway are much higher, but there's a smaller margin for error in aviation," Hall said.
- With files from The Associated Press