An American Airlines pilot flunked two sobriety tests before a 7 a.m. flight out of Detroit. An Alaska Airlines pilot flew a commercial plane from California to Oregon and back again, all while allegedly drunk. Yet another pilot, from United, allegedly moonlighted as a pimp, running half a dozen brothels out of apartments in Houston, according to authorities.
The cases are enough to frighten the flying public, and are not isolated, according to a FoxNews.com investigation. Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that while the overwhelming majority of men and women at the cockpit controls are law abiding and responsible, too many fly – or attempt to fly – intoxicated, and even engage in criminal behavior after they touch down.
“There is no leveling off or decrease in this trend, in fact drug use seems to be climbing,” said Peter Bartos, a retired military pilot with an FAA Airline Transport Pilot license, who reviewed the FAA data for FoxNews.com. “The general public probably has no idea that this abuse is occurring with such regularity.”
More than 56,000 alcohol screening tests done by the industry in 2015 for pilots, mechanics, aircraft dispatchers, ground security coordinators, aviation screeners, and traffic controllers, just 119 – or around 0.2 percent – were confirmed at or above the legal limit. Under FAA rules, pilots are not allowed to consume alcohol eight hours before a flight or have a blood alcohol content level higher than .04 percent.
“It is mind-boggling that on average one U.S. pilot a month is caught trying to fly a passenger aircraft while over the legal limit for flying, which at 0.04 percent, is more restrictive than for driving a car in many states, especially given that they know they are subject to screening,” Bartos said. “It also means that others aren’t caught, since it is not a mandatory test for all pilots on every flight.”
The FAA opened 1,001 investigations into pilots in 2015, typically sending out warnings to pilots for everything from disobeying the flight tower, failing to comply with an “airworthiness directive,” operating an aircraft in a “careless or reckless manner,” making a “fraudulent or intentionally false statement on any application for a medical certificate” and failing to have an “appropriate and current airworthiness certificate.”
The FAA also ultimately revoked 38 pilot licenses and suspended another 46 pilot licenses.
Morgan Durrant, spokesman for Delta Air Lines, said the FAA often cites pilots for what equates to driving citations, with the vast majority minor and sometimes simply mandating additional training.
In some cases, commercial pilots have used their travel privileges to orchestrate other crimes, or committed crimes while off duty, and as a result, put their pilot’s certification in jeopardy, according to records reviewed by FoxNews.com.
Jan-Arwed Richter, founder and general manager of the German flight safety bureau, JACDEC, which gathers data worldwide on accident and incidents reports, safety benchmarks and operational safety, said overall, flying is safe, especially in the North American region.
“There were only 171 fatalities in commercial aviation over the last 10 years. The second-best region, Eurasia, has 680 fatalities,” Richter said.