Delta Pilot Sentenced To 10 Months In Jail After Showing Up To Fly Drunk

Photo: Aero Icarus / Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Aero Icarus / Wikimedia Commons

A Scottish court sentenced a Delta Air Lines pilot to 10 months in jail after he arrived drunk to fly from Edinburgh International Airport. The New York Times reported that Lawrence B. Russell Jr. was scheduled to fly a Boeing 767 to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, but he was stopped at the security checkpoint. Russell was trying to bring two bottles of Jägermeister, one half-empty. He failed a breathalyzer test and was arrested. The flight was understandably canceled, and Russell later pleaded guilty to his charges.

Russell’s blood alcohol content was determined to be at least 0.049 percent. The legal limit to fly an aircraft is 0.02 percent. The 63-year-old pilot was over double the limit to enter the cockpit. He was also over the 0.05 percent limit to drive a car in Scotland. Russell had a history of drinking problems and was charged with driving under the influence in 1985. According to court documents, he was diagnosed with severe alcohol use disorder and successfully completed a recovery program.

After Russell serves his sentence, he’ll have to wait a year before applying for an aviation medical certificate with the Federal Aviation Administration and be cleared to fly again. Delta could potentially rehire Russell. The airline placed the pilot on long-term disability leave after his arrest. However, the FAA imposes a mandatory retirement age of 65 so his days flying for the carrier were already numbered.


Compared to drunk driving, commercial pilots flying while intoxicated is exceptionally rare. In 2015, the FAA randomly tested 12,480 American commercial pilots and only 10 failed.

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