Flying High . . . Almost

Every now and then, the aviation gods drop a gem in your lap such as this—a lawyer attempting to drop the charges against his client. His client is a pilot who, fortunately, was stopped before (allegedly) flying intoxicated.

The facts at hand are this:

  • Blood alcohol content 0.343 (8 times the FAA legal limit)
  • Seated in the cockpit, wearing headphones, APU on
  • Appeared to be conducting a pre-flight
  • Had received a clearance

In your opinion, is that operating an aircraft?

Clearly the pilot should have been—and was—fired after the incident. As a safety-sensitive employee, you must not report for service, or remain on duty if you are under the influence or impaired by alcohol or have a blood alcohol concentration .04 or greater. You must not use alcohol 8 hours before reporting for service (flight crewmembers).

Ah, but when you are a lawyer, the devil is in the details, is it not my good barrister?

The federal charge accuses the pilot of operating a common carrier while under the influence of alcohol. Does this pass the smell test for you? The aircraft's engines were not started; no passengers were on board; the aircraft door was not closed; no clearance to move the aircraft was attempted or given, nor was the aircraft moved; and the captain and defendant were "never seated together in the cabin..."

His lawyer states that the pilot "by definition did not operate the aircraft."

In the case of operating a car, does the law make any distinction between whether you were actually driving the car or whether you had actual physical control of the car (keys in the ignition) and were not operating the car? As a former police officer, I have seen these cases go either way.

Undoubtedly, the pilot should seek help, but not in the form of a lawyer. By abusing drugs or alcohol, you risk your own life, your coworkers' lives, and the lives of the public. There are resources available to confidentially assist you through the evaluation and treatment of your problem. If you would like to find a treatment facility close to you, check with your local yellow pages, local health department, or visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services treatment facility locator. Also, many work-place programs are in place to assist employees and family members with substance abuse, mental health, and other problems that affect their job performance.

Follow The Agonic Line

The Agonic Line blog focuses on aviation training. Advanced Aircrew Academy brings you articles written by subject matter experts in their field on topics of interest for business aviation flight department managers and pilots. Through insightful content it is our goal to reduce declination and show the course direct to true north on aviation training issues.

Agonic Line - An imaginary line on the Earth's surface connecting points where the magnetic declination is zero. The agonic line is a line of longitude on which a compass will show true north.