Random tests catch impaired pilots

Aug 4, 2023

Earlier this year, in June, Lawrence Russell, a Delta Air Lines pilot was arrested in Edinburgh, Scotland before a flight was set to take off for New York. He was accused of having alcohol over the legal blood limit in his system. While Scottish law enforcement did not disclose the amount of alcohol in the pilot’s blood at the time of arrest, under the legislation of the U.K.’s Railways and Transport Safety Act of 2003, the legal blood alcohol limit for members of a plane’s crew is 0.02%. 

The incident resulted in a flight cancellation, while the passengers were accommodated by the airline. “Delta‘s alcohol policy is among the strictest in the industry and we have no tolerance for violation,” said a company spokesperson in a released statement.

Similar incidents have occurred in other countries following administration of alcohol tests. In 2018, a Japan Airlines pilot was arrested in London after failing a breathalyzer test before co-piloting a flight to Tokyo.

In 2016, David Hans Arntson, a pilot working for Alaska Airlines, had undergone random drug and alcohol testing, which showed that the pilot had a blood alcohol concentration of .134% and .142%. Consequently, he was arrested on suspicion of flying while under the influence of alcohol and later removed from duty and retired from the airline.

According to data released by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there are several alcohol violations every year among commercial pilots who fly for airlines or charter operations who are required to submit to random alcohol tests. 

In addition, the number of alcohol violations among pilots over the last 20 years has varied from 5 detected in 2013 to 25 in 2019. In 2022, there were 7 pilot alcohol violations.

The FAA regulations require the pilot to be removed from a plane if their breath alcohol concentration level is 0.04 or higher. In addition, pilots also must not drink within 8 hours before flying, the so-called “bottle to throttle” time period, while other airlines have stricter requirements.