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"Ex-AmWest pilots to avoid trial, but FAA cracks down"



Wednesday, August 6, 2003

Ex-AmWest pilots to avoid trial, but FAA cracks down
By Jim Walsh
The Arizona Republic


Two former America West pilots who flunked alcohol breath tests a year ago
may avoid prosecution, but the Federal Aviation Administration is cracking
down to prevent future incidents.

The FAA toughened its policy against impairment in January by yanking all
medical licenses and airman licenses when airline pilots, flight attendants
and mechanics violate the agency's .04 percent blood alcohol limit.

The crackdown makes it more difficult for an offending airline pilot to
eventually return to the skies, said Donn Walker, an FAA spokesman in Los
Angeles.

Previously, a pilot with an alcohol violation lost only his medical license
and could enter rehabilitation and get it back, Walker said. Now offending
pilots must start from square one and requalify for both licenses. 

"That's a very long process," Walker said. "You can safely say we are really
tightening the screws on airline pilots. We're taking every precaution to
make sure the public is safe."

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that former America West Capt. Thomas Cloyd,
45, and co-pilot Christopher Hughes, 42, cannot be prosecuted for violating
Florida laws against driving under the influence.

Although Cloyd and Hughes both exceeded Florida's legal limit of 0.08
percent during breath tests, U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz ruled that
regulation of airline pilots is a federal issue. Both men lived in Gilbert
at the time they were charged. 

She ordered the Florida charges dropped, saying Cloyd and Hughes can be
prosecuted only under federal law. 

The federal limit at which drivers are presumed under the influence is 0.10
percent.

An assistant Florida attorney general said an appeal is "very likely" in a
federal Appeals Court. 

No decision has been reached on whether to file federal charges.

Prosecutors could theoretically use additional evidence to prove the pilots
were impaired.

But very few of the nation's 140,000 airline pilots violate the FAA's
alcohol limit. Each year, 10,000 pilots are randomly tested and others are
tested when impairment is suspected.

The number of violations has fluctuated from three in 1995 to a record 26 in
2002, when Cloyd and Hughes were arrested. So far, nine pilots have recorded
violations this year.

Janice Monahan, an America West spokeswoman, said Cloyd and Hughes were
dismissed for violating the airline's policy that bars alcohol consumption
within 12 hours of a scheduled flight.

Amy Scarlett, spokeswoman for the America West Pilots Association, said she
cannot comment because Hughes and Cloyd have grievances pending with the
airline.

Hughes and Cloyd were exceptions to the previous policy, Walker said,
because the FAA pulled both of their licenses before the policy was changed.


"They've already suffered significant punishment," said James K. Rubin,
Hughes' Miami attorney. "They've lost their licenses, they've lost their
jobs."

Rubin said Hughes was receiving hate mail at one point.

But Walker wasn't moved by their plight.

"They screwed themselves," he said.


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