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Kolbjorn Kristiansen, American Eagle pilot, charged for attempting to operate plane while drunk

A January, 2013 photo released by the Metropolitan Airports Commission shows American Eagle pilot Kolbjorn Kristiansen in an Airport Police booking photo. Kristiansen has been charged with three gross misdemeanors after authorities say he failed a blood-alcohol test as he prepared to fly out of the Minneapolis airport in January. (AP Photo/Airport Police, HO) Anonymous

Kolbjorn Kristiansen
AP Photo/Airport Police, HO

(CBS/AP) MINNEAPOLIS - An American Eagle pilot was charged Tuesday after he failed a blood-alcohol test before he was scheduled to fly a plane from Minneapolis to New York City, authorities said.

Kolbjorn Kristiansen, 48, was arrested at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Jan. 4 after airport police and a Transportation Security Administration officer said they smelled alcohol as they walked past a group of four pilots around 5:30 a.m. Authorities said a preliminary test revealed Kristiansen's blood-alcohol content was 0.107, more than double the legal limit for pilots.

Kristiansen, of Raleigh, N.C., was charged in Minnesota's Hennepin County District Court with three gross misdemeanors related to attempting to operate an aircraft under the influence of alcohol. Each count carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a fine of $3,000.

According to a criminal complaint, two officers approached Kristiansen and noted he had "glassy and watery eyes and was slow in responses to officer questions." The complaint said Kristiansen admitted that he consumed alcohol the night before and was planning to fly.

After the preliminary test, a subsequent blood test revealed Kristiansen's blood-alcohol level was 0.09. Pilots are prohibited from flying if they have a blood-alcohol level of 0.04 or higher, half the level allowed for motorists.

American Airlines uses American Eagle to operate shorter connecting flights. In January, American Eagle spokesman Matt Miller said Kristiansen was suspended, and an internal investigation was being conducted.

"The pilot involved in this matter continues to be withheld from service," Miller said in an email Tuesday. "American Eagle has a well-established substance abuse policy that is designed to put the safety of our customers and employees first."

The flight, with 53 passengers, was delayed about 2.5 hours as the airline found a replacement pilot.

Jeanne Cooney, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Minnesota, said that based on the circumstances of the case and the different way federal and state statutes are written, it was appropriate that the case be handled by state court.

While federal law criminalizes the operation of an aircraft while under the influence of alcohol, state statutes make it a crime if a person also makes an "attempt" to operate an aircraft while under the influence.

  • Crimesider Staff

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