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"Crackdown On Drinking And Flying"



Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Crackdown On Drinking And Flying
The Associated Press


WASHINGTON, After a doubling of airline pilots failing Breathalyzer tests,
the government has tightened procedures to keep those caught drunk out of
the cockpit. 

Last year, 22 commercial airline pilots tested positive for alcohol use, up
from nine in 2001, and nine pilots have tested positive this year. That's
only a fraction of the approximately 75,000 U.S. airline pilots but enough
to cause the Federal Aviation Administration to establish new procedures for
dealing with drunk pilots. 

The jump in numbers, first reported by Newsday, led the FAA to change its
policy in January so that pilots who fail sobriety tests immediately have
both their medical and airman's certificates revoked. Both certificates are
required for a pilot to fly. 

Previously, only the medical certificate was revoked in cases of drug or
alcohol use, said John Mazor, spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association,
the largest pilots' union. 

Pilots can get caught in two ways: as part of the Transportation
Department's random tests of 10,000 airline pilots every year, or if their
behavior arouses suspicion among airline officials or law enforcement
officers. 

Pilots must wait a year and go through rehabilitation to get their medical
certificates restored. To get their airman's certificate, they must also
wait a year and then retake all the written and flight tests required to fly
a plane. 

An increasing number of pilots caught drunk while on duty doesn't
necessarily mean more intoxicated pilots are trying to fly planes, experts
say, only that more are getting caught. 

"There is a higher level of public awareness," said Greg Overman, spokesman
for the Allied Pilots Union, which represents pilots at Fort Worth,
Texas-based American Airlines. "The number of false accusations has risen,
and even when there's a false accusation by a passenger or a security
screener, it tends to make headlines." 

In February, a pilot removed from a Delta Air Lines flight at Norfolk
International Airport was acquitted of operating a plane under the influence
of alcohol. 

Two America West pilots accused of trying to fly drunk on a Phoenix-bound
flight from Miami last year are scheduled to be tried in Florida state court
on July 7. 

In all three cases, federal security screeners had smelled alcohol on the
pilots. 

Robert Johnson, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration,
said airline passengers as well as screeners are more likely to report
something unusual at an airport since the Sept. 11 terror attacks. 

Screeners are not trained to look for impaired pilots, Johnson said. "Their
job is to search for and keep prohibited items off the aircraft." If a
screener observes drunken behavior, he or she is directed to report it to a
supervisor, who has the authority to report it to law enforcement and local
airline officials, he said.


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