An American Eagle pilot was suspended after failing a blood-alcohol test as he prepared to fly on Friday from Minneapolis to New York City, authorities said.
Police at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport said officers and a Transportation Security Administration agent smelled alcohol as they passed the pilot waiting to get on an elevator. The pilot was conducting preflight checks at about 6 a.m. when police boarded the aircraft, airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said.
Officers made him take a breath test and arrested him on suspicion of being under the influence of alcohol, Hogan said. Passengers had not yet boarded the flight to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, he said.
Hogan said airport police will wait until blood tests are processed before deciding whether to file charges against the pilot. Police identified the pilot as 48-year-old Kolbjorn Jarle Kristiansen. He was released to airline employees several hours after his arrest.
Federal rules prohibit pilots from flying within eight hours of drinking alcohol or if they have a blood-alcohol level of 0.04 or higher, half the level allowed for motorists.
Hogan said preliminary results of the breath test were well over the legal limit, but he declined to release the results. He said the “more precise” results from the blood test would be released when they’re available.
The pilot has been suspended pending an investigation, said Matt Miller, a spokesman for American Airlines, which uses American Eagle to operate shorter connecting flights. Miller said the company is cooperating with authorities and will conduct an internal investigation.
The flight, with 53 passengers on board, was delayed about two and a half hours while a replacement pilot was arranged, Miller said. It arrived in New York after noon.
The pilot was taken to Fairview Southdale Hospital to have a blood sample taken, then was returned to airport police before being released, Hogan said.
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.