Raleigh-based American Eagle pilot arrested for alcohol test at Minneapolis airport

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comJanuary 4, 2013 

A Raleigh-based airline pilot for American Eagle was arrested on suspicion of alcohol impairment Friday morning at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as he was preparing to pilot a flight to New York, airport and airline officials said.

Airport police and a Transportation Security Administration agent said they smelled alcohol on the breath of Kolbjorn Jarle Kristiansen, 48, of 11228 Paddy Hollow Lane in Raleigh before he boarded American Eagle flight 4590 for its 6:10 a.m. departure.

Kristiansen flunked an initial Breathalyzer test and was taken to a hospital to have blood drawn for further tests, airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said.

“We are not releasing the specific results yet, but they were well over the legal limit for pilots in Minnesota,” Hogan said. State and federal impairment standards limit pilots to a blood-alcohol level of .04 percent, which is half the legal standard of impairment for automobile drivers.

No charges were filed pending test results, Hogan said, and Kristiansen was released on his own recognizance.

American Airlines said Kristiansen was suspended from duty. Another pilot was found, and the flight left Minneapolis-St. Paul for New York’s LaGuardia Airport at 8:50 a.m. with 53 passengers.

“American Eagle has a well-established substance abuse policy that is designed to put the safety of our customers and employees first,” airline spokesman Matt Miller said by email. “We are cooperating with authorities and conducting a full internal investigation. The pilot will be withheld from service pending the outcome of the investigation.”

Alcohol-related pilot arrests are uncommon at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, Hogan said.

“It very rarely happens,” Hogan said. “Every three or four years at the most, we have a case come up like this, out of more than 430,000 flights a year.”

Pilots face drug and alcohol testing when they seek a job, are involved in an accident or return from alcohol rehabilitation. Some are selected for random tests. More than 10,000 pilots are tested each year, and about a dozen flunk the alcohol part – a number that has remained mostly steady for more than a decade, according to federal statistics.

Twelve pilots failed the breath test in 2011, 10 in 2010, and 11 in 2009, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Your odds of having an impaired driver on the highway are much higher, but there’s a smaller margin for error in aviation,” said James Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Drinking among pilots got more attention after notorious cases in the 1990s, including one in which a jury convicted all three pilots of a Northwest Airlines flight of flying under the influence. Federal rules were tightened as a result.

The Associated Press contributed

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown or twitter.com/Road_Worrier/

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