A Delta pilot who was arrested just before takeoff in Amsterdam on Monday for being drunk has underscored an issue that appears more frequently than most travelers imagined.
According to USA Today, US pilots who blow over the legal limit for flying (.04 percent) crop up one time a month on average.
The FAA data shows that 12 commercial pilots, out of the 11,000 tested yearly, are found to violate the FAA standard each year.
The legal limit for driving is .08 percent in most states, and the airlines have become more rigid about legal limits for pilots, setting the limit at .04 percent after a few high-profile cases in the 90’s.
The most notorious case occurred in 1990 when three Northwest Airlines crew members, including the pilot, tested positive for alcohol after landing a commercial airliner in Minneapolis. The pilot blew over .10 percent.
Elaine Weinstein, former head of safety recommendations at the National Transportation Safety Board, told USA Today that she felt there should be a zero tolerance rule for alcohol and drug use by pilots.
“If a pilot is drinking before he flies, it raises the question in my mind about whether this person has a substance abuse problem,” Weinstein told USA Today.
In order to keep pilots from consuming alcohol before flying the FAA conducts unannounced tests and trains flight attendants and co-pilots to disallow any drunk captain from get behind the controls.
Delta issued a statement concerning the pilot in Amsterdam, explaining that the flight was cancelled because the pilot appeared “unfit for duty.”
He was called in by a suspicious crew member. The passengers of the flight were put up in hotels near the airport and flew out the next day.