MINNEAPOLIS — An American Eagle pilot from Raleigh was suspended after failing a blood-alcohol test as he prepared to fly on Friday from Minneapolis to New York City, authorities said.
The pilot was conducting preflight checks about 6:30 a.m. when airport police officers acting on a tip boarded the aircraft, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said. Officers made him take a Breathalyzer test and arrested him on suspicion of being under the influence of alcohol.
"There was a witness who smelled what they thought was alcohol on the pilot's breath and notified police," Hogan said. Passengers had not yet boarded the flight to La Guardia, New York City, he said.
When tested, Kolbjorn Jarle Kristiansen had a blood alcohol level of .04.
Federal rules prohibit pilots from flying within eight hours of drinking alcohol or if they have a blood-alcohol level of 0.04 or higher, half the level allowed for motorists.
"In Minnesota, the legal limit for pilots is .04, much stricter than someone traveling on a road in the state," he said.
Kristiansen, 48, who lives in the 11000 block of Paddy Hollow Lane in Raleigh, has been suspended pending an investigation, according to Matt Miller, a spokesman for American Airlines, American Eagle's sister company.
The airline is cooperating with authorities and will conduct an internal investigation, Miller said.
No one answered the door at Kristiansen's north Raleigh home, and his neighbors declined to comment about the situation.
"American Eagle has a well-established substance abuse policy that is designed to put the safety of our customers and employees first," Miller said. "The pilot will be withheld from service pending the outcome of the investigation.”
Airport police said charges against Kristiansen are pending.
Flight 4590 was delayed about 2 ½ hours while a replacement pilot was arranged, he said. Miller said the 53 passengers left Minneapolis-St. Paul at 8:50 a.m. and arrived safely in New York at 12:15 p.m.
American Eagle passengers of other flights were shocked to hear the news of Kristiansen's arrest.
"I'm glad I wasn't on that flight! 6, 6:30 in the morning? That's crazy. That's ridiculous," said Linda Singh.
After the pilot was taken to Fairview Southdale Hospital to have a blood sample taken for testing, he was returned to the custody of airport police, Hogan said.
Pilots face drug and alcohol testing when they seek a job, are involved in an accident or return from alcohol rehabilitation. Some are selected for random tests. More than 10,000 pilots are tested each year and about a dozen flunk the alcohol part — a number that has remained mostly steady for more than a decade, according to federal statistics.
Aviation attorney Brian Alexander reiterated: alcohol and aviation are a terrible mix.
"You have to understand it will slow your reaction time. It will, in fact, affect your judgment. You have to take that into consideration and be at the top of your game," he said.