Pilots Face Court, Loss Of Certificates For Alcohol

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It's a well-worn debate, but it's getting yet another run -- if a pilot drinks, is that a medical problem to be addressed, or a violation to be punished? The rules were changed after Newsday reported last year that 22 commercial airline pilots had tested positive for alcohol use, up from nine the year before. If found guilty in court, it seems pilots could lose not only their medical certificates, but -- under new FAA rules in place since January -- they could lose all their flight certificates as well. About 10,000 pilots of the 75,000 in the U.S. are tested randomly each year, but pilots can also be tested if an airport worker or airline official raises a question about their behavior. Accusations from TSA screeners instigated several of the recent tests. Some of those tests resulted in pilots being charged, and this spring, the TSA told screeners across the country to be on the alert for impaired pilots. In the wake of 9/11, the side for strict punishment is gaining ground. Two America West pilots accused of trying to fly while under the influence on a Phoenix-bound flight from Miami last year are the latest to face the courts -- they are scheduled to be tried in Florida on July 7.