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AirTran Fires Pilot Accused of Drinking

By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 15, 2005; Page E01

AirTran Airways said it fired one of it pilots yesterday after he allegedly showed up for work in Las Vegas smelling of alcohol and carrying a government-issued firearm in a lockbox.

The pilot, Oliver Paul Reason Jr., 37, was trained by the federal government to carry a gun in the cockpit under a program passed by Congress in response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The Transportation Security Administration said it was the first incident since the program's inception in April 2003 in which an armed pilot was reportedly under the influence of alcohol on the job.

Oliver Reason Jr. was arrested in Las Vegas. (Couresy of Las Vegas Police)

Tad Hutcheson, an AirTran spokesman, said the airline does not believe arming pilots is a good idea, even though some of its employees have volunteered for the program. "We want the pilots to focus on flying and not on guns or security or anything else," Hutcheson said. "That's always been our position."

The TSA has trained thousands of pilots to carry .40-caliber semiautomatic pistols in a lockbox under a voluntary program. The agency won't disclose the exact number of members but says that commercial airline pilots must first pass rigorous background and psychological tests and training in order to carry a weapon. Pilots transport the guns in a lockbox to the cockpit.

The incident raised fresh concerns about arming pilots with lethal weapons at 30,000 feet. Doug Laird, former director of security for Northwest Airlines, said he does not think airline pilots receive adequate training to carry weapons. There will be incidents like this, Laird said. "There are incidents with police."

But an airline pilot who pushed Congress to authorize the program argued that the pilot's use of alcohol was more dangerous than his gun. "The issue is making sure a pilot who is irresponsible with alcohol is never, ever given access to an airplane," said Tracy Price, an airline captain. "Between the airplane and the gun, the airplane is many times more dangerous."

Police at Las Vegas's McCarran International Airport said Reason showed up for a flight scheduled to leave for Atlanta at 11:45 p.m. Wednesday. A security screener detected alcohol on his breath and alerted police, who met him on the plane, questioned him and conducted a breath test for alcohol.

A police officer on the scene said Reason "did not appear impaired, however there was an odor of alcohol on his breath," according to police records. Reason allegedly told police that he had not had a drink in 10 hours, but he failed the breath test. Police officers arrested Reason on a charge of operating an aircraft while under the influence of alcohol, according to police records.

AirTran canceled the flight and rescheduled its 60 passengers on other flights to Atlanta.

Reason was held by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in Clark County Jail and released Thursday. He flew to Orlando as a passenger on Thursday, where his manager told him that he had been terminated for violating company policy. The airline said he had been with the company for about 10 years. A representative from the union representing AirTran pilots declined to comment. Reason could not be reached for comment. A person who answered the telephone at his house but declined to identify herself said the family had no comment.

Nico Melendez, a TSA spokesman, said the agency recovered Reason's weapon from Las Vegas police and Reason was dropped from the armed pilots' program. Federal rules prohibit pilots from operating an aircraft within eight hours of consuming alcohol, known as the eight-hour "bottle to throttle" rule, and they may not have a blood-alcohol level above 0.04 percent. Violating the rules could result in the FAA revoking a pilot's license.

The FAA said it could not comment on whether Reason's license had been pulled, citing privacy reasons.

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