The old sea chantey, "What do you do with a drunken sailor?" should be updated to accommodate the two America West pilots who were about to fly an Airbus A319 out of Miami with blood alcohol levels above the legal limit for driving, let alone for flying. Their airline's rule is 12 hours between bottle and throttle. To the question "What do you do with a drunken pilot?" we'd answer, throw the book at him and not only "toss him in the brig until he's sober" but for a long time after that as well.
Porter Cloyd, 44, and co-pilot Christopher Hughes, 41, have been fired by America West and the Federal Aviation Administration has issued emergency orders revoking their pilots' licenses, but we have to wonder what's being done to determine what would cause two experienced pilots to even consider getting tanked before taking the lives of a planeload of passengers in their hands.
We remember the case a few years back when the attorney for a fired drunken Northwest Airlines' pilot argued that his client wasn't really drunk because as an alcoholic he could handle his liquor better than the average person. We doubt his passengers would have shared the lawyer's enthusiasm.
Praise for security screener
However, the 124 passengers on last Monday's Phoenix-bound plane must have been more than enthusiastic in their praise of the airport security screener who alerted authorities after noticing that that Cloyd and Hughes smelled of alcohol.
Both pilots were found to have blood-alcohol levels above Florida's legal limit of 0.08 after they were ordered to return their plane to the gate.
The consumption of alcoholic beverages and the flying of aircraft are supposed to be mutually exclusive activities, and every year, FAA rules require airlines to test 10 percent of employees who have jobs in which safety matters, including pilots, flight attendants and maintenance crews, In 2000, the last year for which a detailed breakdown is available, only nine of 10,419 airline employees randomly screened for alcohol tested positive, Laura Brown, FAA spokeswoman, said Tuesday.
Stiff punishments for Cloyd and Hughes are essential to give pilots who have slipped through the FAA's cracks the message that alcohol and aviation don't mix.