A Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman quoted in a Dec. 27 article about a pilot accused of an alcohol violation said yesterday that she erred in saying that no pilots had tested positive in random alcohol testing in recent years. She said that in the past three years, five pilots have tested positive in the course of about 10,250 random tests. (Published 12/28/02)
A Delta Airlines pilot failed two breath tests for alcohol yesterday morning after he was asked to leave an airplane at Norfolk International Airport, the head of the airport authority said.
Ken Scott, executive director of the Norfolk Airport Authority, identified the pilot as Gary Alan Schroeder, 42, of Yorktown, Va. Schroeder had a blood-alcohol level of 0.07, Scott said. Federal Aviation Administration regulations forbid a flight crew member to operate an airplane within eight hours of drinking alcohol or with a blood-alcohol level higher than 0.04.
Schroeder had been assigned as co-pilot of Delta Flight 739, which was scheduled to leave Norfolk for Cincinnati at 6:05 a.m.
Scott said baggage screeners detected alcohol on Schroeder's breath when he arrived at the airport about 5:15 a.m. Screeners notified airport police, who went to the cockpit and began talking with Schroeder as he made preflight checks.
After detecting alcohol on Schroeder's breath, police asked him to submit voluntarily to a breath test, Scott said.
Schroeder agreed and went to the airport police office and took the test. Police then asked a Delta service manager to go to the office, and Schroeder was asked to take the breath test again with the other employee as a witness. Both tests registered the same blood-alcohol level, Scott said.
"He was very cooperative," Scott said of the pilot. "He didn't say anything, but he didn't resist or wasn't belligerent or anything."
Scott said Schroeder agreed to board a flight to Delta headquarters in Atlanta, accompanied by the captain of the original crew of Flight 739. A new crew was found for the Cincinnati flight, which took off about 55 minutes late.
A spokeswoman for Delta Airlines would confirm only that a "crew-related incident" occurred on Flight 739 from Norfolk to Cincinnati.
"Delta's taking the incident very seriously, and we're conducting a thorough investigation into the matter," Patsy Mulcahy said. "We will follow strict policies and procedures on this matter, and we won't be able to comment further until our investigation is complete."
An FAA spokeswoman would say only that the incident was under investigation. The penalty for an alcohol-related violation, if confirmed, is usually suspension or revocation of the pilot's license, Laura Brown said.
"We have the ability to prevent the pilot from flying again," Brown said, "but we don't have criminal jurisdiction in a matter like this."
The pilot was issued a summons charging him with violating a Norfolk city code that makes it illegal for a pilot to be under the influence of alcohol while operating or attempting to operate an aircraft. A preliminary hearing was set for Jan. 9 in Norfolk General Circuit Court.
Brown said the FAA requires airlines to conduct random drug and alcohol testing of pilots and other safety-sensitive personnel, such as baggage handlers. The airlines are required to randomly test 10 percent of such employees for alcohol and 20 percent for drugs annually.
"For the last couple of years, at least, none of the pilots randomly tested turned up positive," Brown said.