An allegedly drunk pilot who also carried a loaded gun has been arrested after trying to fly a JetBlue commercial flight in Buffalo. Authorities said 52-year-old James Clifton had.17 alcohol in his blood – four times the accepted limit – with .04 being considered illegal for pilots in the United States.
The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and a TSA officer who observed that Clifton was drunk removed him from the cockpit of the airplane before it took off for Florida. A Breathalyzer was administered to him, and it was found that he had above the level approved for pilots in the country.
Clifton told JetBlue security who notified the FAA that he took 7-8 drinks on Tuesday night at the hotel where he was staying with his crew, but that he did not take any drink the Wednesday morning he was arrested. Clifton’s co-pilot said he took an Uber because he missed the crew bus which took flight officials to the airport and that a TSA officer found him unstable while passing through airport security.
The licensed gun he had with him was seized, together with its three 17-round magazines. He was accredited to carry a firearm under a post-911 program that allows commercial pilots to be armed.
But officials said he may face a federal charge for being drunk. FAA protocols bar pilots from taking alcohol on duty or within eight hours of being scheduled to fly an aircraft. They are also not allowed to operate a plane if they have .04 or above alcohol in their blood. A former commercial pilot, John Nance, said this might be the end of the road for Clifton as a pilot.
“This couldn’t be any more serious,” Nance said. “The idea of letting anyone who’s slightly impaired into a commercial cockpit with all those lives behind you and all those lives on the ground below you, it’s intolerable to have any impairment whatsoever and from the point of view of a pilot, this is the end of a career.”
The FAA, JetBlue, and the Air Line Pilots Association said they are investigating the incident.
“The safety of JetBlue’s customers and crew members is our first priority,” JetBlue said in a statement. “We adhere to all DOT rules and requirements concerning alcohol at all times and have a very strict zero-tolerance internal alcohol policy. We are aware of the incident that occurred this morning in Buffalo and is cooperating fully with law enforcement. We are also conducting our own internal investigation. The crew member involved has been removed from his duties.”