Magazine article Newsweek

Flying a Little Too High: An Alert Screener Keeps Impaired Pilots on the Ground

Magazine article Newsweek

Flying a Little Too High: An Alert Screener Keeps Impaired Pilots on the Ground

Article excerpt

Byline: Arian Campo-Flores

America west pilot Thomas Cloyd wasn't known as a merry tippler. In 1998, according to police reports, he got into a drunken fracas with his wife, spit on her, cursed at her and shoved her against a refrigerator. "When Tom's drinking," she told cops, "it doesn't take anything to start him fighting." Last week, on his way to pilot a plane from Miami to Phoenix, that belligerence got him in trouble again. Cloyd, 44, and copilot Christopher Hughes, 41, were stopped by an airport screener for trying to pass through a checkpoint with cups of coffee. An argument erupted and the screener noticed that both were bleary-eyed and reeked of alcohol. He alerted police, and the taxiing plane was ordered back from the runway. Cloyd and Hughes, whose blood alcohol levels tested more than twice the federal limit, were arrested--and a potential disaster was averted.

The incident couldn't come at a tenser time. Already, air travelers are besieged almost daily with dire travel alerts and airport evacuations. And now this. Especially troubling: the pilots were caught only because of a savvy screener. "It surprises me that we didn't have a more fail-safe method," says U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, who works on airline-industry issues.

But how common are these cases? Each year the FAA randomly tests 10 percent of pilots and flight attendants for alcohol. Two years ago some 10,000 tests yielded only five violations; last year there were nine; and this year seven prior to Cloyd's and Hughes's. …

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