Drunk Pilot Arrested, Flight Grounded

A drunk pilot was arrested at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in suburban Romulus on Saturday morning. Flight 736, an Embraer E-190, a smaller jet than a Boeing 737, but larger than a typical regional jet, was scheduled to depart at 7 a.m. and arrive in Philadelphia around 8:45 a.m. The unidentified pilot was to co-pilot the flight had he not been detained.

An alert Transportation Security Administration agent noticed that the American Airlines co-pilot was behaving strangely at a security checkpoint and acted immediately by performing a breathalyzer test. The pilot allegedly failed, so TSA agents notified the airport authority of the situation and let them know he needed to be further evaluated due to his behavior and the failed test. DTW spokesman Michael Conway said that the pilot failed a breathalyzer test and was taken into custody by the Wayne County Airport Authority before being turned over to local authorities. Law enforcement in Romulus conducted an additional breathalyzer test, which the suspect also allegedly failed. The pilot, as of yet still not identified, is said to be from Pennsylvania and was born in 1965.

American Airlines released a statement on the matter.

“This is a serious matter and we are assisting local law enforcement and the Federal Aviation Administration with the investigation. We will handle this matter appropriately as the safety and care of our customers and employees is our highest priority. Flight 736 has cancelled and we are re-accommodating our customers on other flights. We apologize to our customers for the disruption to their travel plans.”

Several college students were dismayed to discover their spring break plans had been disrupted by the drunk pilot and shared their frustrations on social media.

when your pilot gets drunk, your flight gets cancelled, and you've been up since 2am #sprangbreak

A photo posted by jenna barlage (@jxnnabar) on

“Safety is our highest priority and we apologize to our customers for the disruption to their travel plans. We are assisting local law enforcement. Further questions should be referred to them.”

In addition to the college students whose spring break plans were interrupted, other customers were also left stranded when the flight was grounded. American Airlines was working to get all of the passengers re-booked on other flights as quickly as possible, according to Laura Nedbal, a spokeswoman for the carrier.

The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed that the co-pilot was “detained this morning under suspicion of having a blood alcohol limit over the legal limit when he arrived for his flight in Detroit.”

In a document entitled “Alcohol and Flying, a Deadly Combination,” the FAA reveals findings of studies that determined the effects of alcohol on pilots at various blood alcohol content levels. Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 91.17 The use of alcohol and drugs by pilots is regulated by FAR 91.17. Among other provisions, this regulation states that no person may operate or attempt to operate an aircraft:

  • Within eight hours of having consumed alcohol.
  • While under the influence of alcohol.
  • With a blood alcohol content of 0.04 percent or greater.
  • While using any drug that adversely affects safety.

[Photo by David Becker/Getty Images]
[Photo by David Becker/Getty Images]
The documents also issue a guideline of eight hours from “bottle to throttle,” but also say “a more conservative approach is to wait 24 hours from the last use of alcohol before flying.” The restrictive guidelines are merely further indication of how intolerant the FAA is of drunken pilots and the risk they pose to passengers and other crew.

While it is possible the crew of Flight 736 would have also noticed the intoxicated copilot’s behavior and taken the necessary steps to ensure the safety of their passengers, there’s little doubt the actions of the TSA agent at the security checkpoint can be called heroic. The inconvenience of a cancelled flight is far less tragic than the dangers of a commercial jet in the hands of a drunk pilot.

[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]