MINNEAPOLIS -- Airport police arrested an American Eagle pilot Friday after he failed a blood-alcohol breath test as he prepared to fly from Minneapolis-St. Paul to New York City, authorities said.
The pilot, 48-year-old Kolbjorn Kristiansen of Hollow Lane, N.C., 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. He was taken to a local medical center where blood samples were taken to determine his exact blood alcohol level.
"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.
Kristiansen 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.
The flight, which had 53 passengers on board, was delayed about 2 1/2 hours while a replacement pilot was arranged, he said.
After Kristiansen 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.
The alcohol limit for flying is lower than for driving, Hogan said.
"In Minnesota, the legal limit for pilots is .04, much stricter than someone traveling on a road in the state," he said.
For Dallas aviation attorney Jon Kettles, the incident raises questions about how the pilot made it as far as the cockpit before his condition was discovered.
The real question is, what were the other employees at American doing?" Kettles said. "Why didn't they raise the flag?"
FAA regulations also forbid a pilot from drinking less than eight hours before a flight -- the so called "bottle to throttle" rule.
The fact that the pilot was discovered with alcohol on his breath at about six in the morning is not a good sign, Kettles said.
"Assuming he had a .04 alcohol level at six in the morning, he was either really drunk the night before, or he was drinking awfully early in the morning," Kettles said. "Either one is not acceptable."