Pilot alcohol violations reported in U.S. newspapers, 1990-2006

Aviat Space Environ Med. 2006 Dec;77(12):1288-90.


Introduction: Alcohol violations by airline pilots are rare yet remain a public concern. Such incidents often generate widespread news coverage. This study examines the frequency and characteristics of alcohol violation incidents involving airline pilots reported in U.S. newspapers.

Methods: The database of Lexis-Nexis, which contains full-text articles for over 350 newspapers, was searched to identify alcohol violation incidents involving airline pilots in the U.S. between January 1990 and June 2006. Information pertaining to the pilot, flight, blood alcohol concentration (BAC), and consequence was ascertained for each incident based on the newspaper coverage.

Results: During the study period, newspapers reported on a total of 13 incidents of alcohol violations involving 17 pilots. All but two of the incidents occurred during January 2002 through June 2006. The majority (85%) of the incidents were first identified by airport personnel, such as security screeners, based on suspicion of alcohol use by the pilot. Subsequent alcohol testing revealed a mean BAC of 90 mg/dL (ranging from 10 mg x dL(-1) to 182 mg x dL(-1)). Of the 17 pilots, 6 were known to be prosecuted criminally, including 5 who were sentenced to jail terms.

Discussion: Incidents of alcohol violations by airline pilots reported in U.S. newspapers have increased in recent years. This increase is likely due in part to increased detection resulting from enhanced aviation security and enforcement following the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aerospace Medicine
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Ethanol / blood
  • Humans
  • Newspapers as Topic*
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Ethanol