A case of a pilot FUI — the rules caught him; the system might have done better & been safer

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According to the below article, an airline pilot “retired” after he was tested for alcohol and before his employer terminated him. While the regulatory net worked when he was tested “randomly,” his career might not have come to an end, if one of his colleagues had taken the courageous step of intervening.

The Omnibus Transportation Employees Testing Act of 1991 and by DOT and FAA regulations (49 CFR part 40 and 14 CFR part 120) mandated that pilots and other safety-sensitive airline employees be tested for drug and alcohol. The program is supported by Secretary of Transportation Foxx’s strong statement of its importance. Technically, the regulatory net worked; for an air carrier’s representative administered a “random” test.

foxx fui safety faa

That regulatory regime places an obligation on the airlines to initiate pre-employment, periodic/random, post-accident, reasonable cause testing, return-to-duty and follow-up (14 CFR §120.109). The regulations (§120.105) also define all of the specific positions subject to this testing.

According to the article, the pilot was “randomly” selected for the test, which he failed. His employer removed him from flight eligibility. He resigned and the airline terminated him for cause—flying while intoxicated and then the US Attorney filed criminal charges against this individual.

Flight crews typically spend a lot of time together during their schedules. They stay at the same hotel (provided by the airline), frequently eat together and take ground transportation to/from the airport as a group. The pilots are in close proximity in a tight cockpit; they share the responsibilities of manipulating the controls, communicating with ATC, going through checklists and breathing the air in that small space.

fui cockpit faa

Any or all of these events should provide the other pilot, for sure, and the cabin crew, possibly, with an opportunity to detect that an individual is under the influence. Yes, it takes a certain amount of interpersonal courage to challenge a co-worker about alcohol consumption. Even more intestinal fortitude, to get on a plane with a pilot whom you have reasonable basis to suspect that (s)he is not in a state to perform the duties required.

The story states that this individual flew more than one leg of the itinerary. If someone had detected the problem earlier and had persuaded the pilot to enter the Employee Assistance Plan, as required by (§120.115), the pilot may have been permitted to continue to fly after a successful completion of a recovery program. The likelihood of an intervention strategy should have been part of the airline EAP education administered to every employee. As to supervisors, the training is both initial and recurrent.

The designed regulatory system caught this person. A more benign approach might have saved this individual’s career and likely avoided a criminal record. There is a mandatory EAP and one which focuses on root problems and solutions. Those words are reminiscent of the FAA’s safety program and a holistic approach is needed for alcohol & drugs and mental health.


ARTICLE: Alaska Airlines says intoxicated pilot was ‘immediately removed from duty’
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1 Comment on "A case of a pilot FUI — the rules caught him; the system might have done better & been safer"

  1. CL604 Charter Copilot Allegedly Tries To Fly Drunk
    AINalerts: August 29, 2016

    A charter copilot accused of attempting to fly while intoxicated late last week has pled not guilty to the charges in a Michigan District Court. On the morning of August 25, Sean Michael Fitzgerald, a pilot with Long Island-based Talon Air, was removed from the cockpit of a Bombardier Challenger 604 during a pre-flight check at Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, Mich., after the flight’s captain determined there was something wrong and notified his dispatchers. According to news reports, Fitzgerald, a Florida resident, was arrested after his field-administered sobriety test showed a blood alcohol content of .30—more than seven times the FAA’s legal limit of 0.04 percent blood alcohol concentration for operating an aircraft.

    Under Michigan law, pilots are prohibited from flying or acting as crew if their blood alcohol content is 0.02 percent or more. Both the federal and state laws also prohibit flying within eight hours of consuming alcohol. “We are very proud of Captain Manny Ramirez’s immediate action in detecting the copilot’s condition and removing him from his position,” the company said in a statement. “This is yet another example of Talon Air’s safety procedures working effectively on behalf of our clients and for airport safety. The individual in question has been immediately terminated.”

    Fitzgerald was released on $5,000 bond, with a preliminary hearing scheduled for September 8. According to an FAA spokesperson, the agency is also investigating the situation.

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