Cops remove JetBlue pilot just before takeoff, sky-high breathalyzer supports claims of late-night bender

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A commercial pilot allegedly flying high, as it were, or trying to, was grounded on Wednesday morning when cops reportedly removed him from the airplane cockpit shortly before takeoff.

Authorities reportedly administered a breathalyzer to the JetBlue aviator, which allegedly showed a 0.17 blood alcohol content, according to multiple news organizations. In most states, 0.08 is the legal limit to operate a car.

A Federal Aviation Administration regulation requires an understandably even stricter 0.04 percent cutoff, which means if the measurement was accurate, the pilot tested about four times the legal limit to fly.

“According to police, the pilot said he was not drinking the morning of the flight but did have 7-8 drinks the night before” at a bar near the hotel where the flight crew were staying, ABC7 reported. The Orlando, Fla.-based pilot, 52, also reportedly missed the hotel-to-airport shuttle with the flight crew in the morning and instead took an Uber to the airport.

Watch a report on this incident from NewsNation:

A TSA screener reportedly tipped off airport police about a possibly tipsy pilot identified in reports as 52-year-old James Clifton.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority posted the following summary:

Under the FAA/Transportation Department minimum eight hours “from bottle to throttle” guidelines, pilots are supposed to avoid consuming alcohol within eight hours of flight duties, and 24 hours is preferred. Flying under the influence is prohibited.

The JetBlue flight was departing Buffalo Niagara International Airport in New York for Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but was on the tarmac for four extra hours before it got underway with a replacement pilot.

“The police report also states Clifton was carrying a gun, licensed under a post-911 program that allows commercial pilots to arm themselves. Police confiscated the gun and three 17-round magazines,” the news outlet added.

No charges have been lodged so far. The FAA is investigating the incident, and JetBlue has also initiated an internal probe.

“The safety of JetBlue’s customers and crewmembers is our first priority. 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 are cooperating fully with law enforcement. We are also conducting our own internal investigation. The crewmember involved has been removed from his duties,” the carrier said in a statement.

“Aviation employees performing safety-sensitive functions are required to submit to the following: post-accident tests, random tests, reasonable suspicion tests, return to duty tests, and follow-up tests,” the federal government guidelines also explain.

“It is unusual to see a flight delayed because of a pilot’s conduct. Of the thousands of flight delays and cancellations in the past few months, most have been caused by unruly passengers, Covid-19 outbreaks or severe weather,” The New York Times observed in reporting on the Buffalo airport incident.

According to the union that represents JetBlue pilots, “The airline piloting profession in North America is one of the most highly scrutinized careers, and airline pilots’ professionalism has contributed to making air transportation the safest form of transport for passengers and air cargo shippers.”


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