A pilot suspected of being drunk while making preflight checks at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport ahead of taking the controls was charged Tuesday with three offenses.
Suspended American Eagle pilot Kolbjorn J. Kristiansen, 48, was charged in Hennepin County District Court this week with attempting to operate an aircraft while under the influence of alcohol on Jan. 4 and two other gross-misdemeanor counts.
The charges say that a preliminary breath test measured his alcohol content at 0.107 percent, with follow-up blood testing coming back at 0.09 percent, after his removal from the airliner’s jetway before its departure for New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
Those results are above the legal limit in Minnesota for driving, and they more than double the state’s limit of 0.04 percent for commercial airline pilots.
If convicted, Kristiansen could face on each count a maximum sentence of a $3,000 fine and/or up to one year in jail.
Kristiansen's attorney, Peter Wold, said he hadn't seen the charges but they were expected.
"He never operated the aircraft. He never touched the controls," Wold said. "That's just the fact."
According to the criminal complaint:
At about 5:30 a.m., airport police officers smelled alcohol as they passed Kristiansen waiting to get on an elevator in Terminal 1 that is reserved for pilots and other flight crew.
The officers went to Kristiansen’s aircraft, where the first officer said Kristiansen had just been in the cockpit reviewing preflight paperwork before heading down the ramp to inspect the airliner.
Officers met up with Kristiansen in the jetway and saw that he smelled of liquor, had glassy and watery eyes and “was slow in responses to officer questions,” the complaint read.
Kristiansen acknowledged drinking the night before and was preparing to take the controls for the 6:10 a.m. departure. He was given a breath test and arrested.
The more than 50 booked passengers had not yet boarded the flight, which was delayed by about 2 1/2 hours because of the arrest.
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.
Kristiansen was suspended soon after his arrest pending the investigation, said a spokesman for American Airlines, which uses American Eagle to operate shorter connecting flights. Both airlines are owned by AMR Corp. An airlines spokesman was not immediately available to comment Tuesday about the charges.
Kristiansen was charged by summons. A message was left at his home seeking reaction to the charges.
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.
Twelve pilots failed the breath test in 2011, 10 in 2010, and 11 in 2009, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.