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Delta pilot sentenced for drinking before flight from Edinburgh to N.Y.

by Staff

A Delta Air Lines pilot who reported to work with a blood alcohol level well above the aviation limit was sentenced to a 10-month jail term in Scotland, according to a court statement Tuesday.

Lawrence B. Russell Jr., 63, of the U.S. state of Georgia, was scheduled to fly a Boeing 767 from Edinburgh, Scotland, to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on June 16. But 80 minutes before takeoff, security personnel found two bottles of Jägermeister — one of which “was just under half full” — in Russell’s carry-on luggage. A blood test showed he had at least 49 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood.

The legal limit in Scotland is 20 milligrams for pilots and 50 milligrams for those driving cars, according to the Edinburgh Sheriff Court, which imposed the sentence. In the United States, pilots are not authorized to fly with a blood alcohol level of 0.04 or higher. Federal rules say pilots cannot have consumed alcohol within eight hours of a flight.

Russell’s flight was canceled and he lost his job, according to the court.

“He showed a reckless disregard for the safety of his passengers and crew. The pilot of a commercial aircraft holds the lives of hundreds in his hands,” Scottish prosecutor Lynne Barrie said in a separate statement.

Russell has at least two previously recorded instances of driving under the influence, according to the court.

His 10-month sentence was reduced from “a headline sentence of 15 months,” Sheriff Alison Stirling said. She said she took into account Russell’s “personal mitigation” and his decision to plead “guilty at the earliest opportunity.”

After the incident, Russell “successfully completed” a recovery program at a rehabilitation center. He was diagnosed with severe alcohol use disorder but is now in remission, Stirling added, noting that Russell had expressed remorse and had the support of his family.

“Once you have completed your sentence you will apply for a new Aviation Medical Certificate. You expect that will be granted, and that if it is granted you expect to be reinstated to your former position,” she said.

In the United States, pilots cannot apply for a Federal Aviation Administration certificate or license for up to one year after a final conviction.

Delta, which did not comment on whether it would rehire Russell, said in an emailed statement that it had “removed the pilot from service while conducting a thorough investigation in coordination with Scottish authorities.” It added that Russell is not “currently employed by Delta.”

Russell and his lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment.

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