The real terror in the skies


I’ve never flown America West Airlines and, after hearing that two of their pilots tried to fly a plane out of Miami while tanked on booze, I doubt that I ever will.

America West pilots Thomas Cloyd and Christopher Hughes were behind the controls of an America West Airbus taxing out for takeoff when the tower called them back because an airport security screener said he smelled alcohol on the breath of one.

Both tested over the legal limit for driving while intoxicated. Because the State of Florida considers an airplane to be a motor vehicle, they were charged under state law with DUI. They also face a more serious federal charge of operating a commercial aircraft while drunk — a felony that could land both in jail for five years.

Only five years? A commercial airline pilot tries to fly a jet full of passengers and he only faces five years in the slammer? The Phoenix-bound jet carried 214 passengers. Why not charge Cloyd and Hughes with 214 counts of attempted murder? That should keep both behind bars for the rest of their lives.

Cloyd and Hughes showed up to fly drunk at 10:30 in the morning. Christ, it wasn’t even noon and both were in the bag. Cloyd, it turns out, has at least two other run-ins with the law that involved drinking — one a spat with his wife and another with a neighbor. He was drunk both times.

Yet America West let him continue to fly and God knows how many other times he may have crawled into the cockpit after a few stiff belts.

As a recovering alcoholic who, unfortunately, crawled behind the wheel of his car too many times while tanked, I have no sympathy for drunks who endanger the lives of others. Drunks who risk lives can, and must, be punished. Fortunately, I never hurt anyone while drinking, but that doesn’t excuse the behavior and make me any less guilty.

And being drunks doesn’t excuse the criminal endangerment of others by Cloyd and Hughes or the criminal misconduct of America West for letting a pilot with a known drinking problem coninue to fly.

Maybe the new federal Terminal Security Agency that spends so much time frisking grandmothers and everyone who looks the least bit foreign can spare a few officers to start giving breathalyzers to pilots before they are allowed on the plane.

A pilot with a snootful is just as dangerous as a fanatic with a box cutter.

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