JetBlue pilot pulled from cockpit after failing Breathalyzer moments before flight, NFTA says

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Police removed a JetBlue pilot from the cockpit of a plane about to depart Buffalo Niagara International Airport on Wednesday morning who had a blood-alcohol level more than four times the legal limit for pilots, a Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority spokesperson said.

The pilot was “removed from his duties,” the airline said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.

James Clifton, 52, of Orlando, was passing through security when Transportation Security Administration agents noticed he may have been impaired, the NFTA spokesperson said.

NFTA police were contacted and removed Clifton from the cockpit of the plane headed for Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Police administered a Breathalyzer test and Clifton registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.17%.

According to Federal Aviation Administration brochure called “Alcohol and Flying: A Deadly Combination,” a pilot or other airline employee “who performs a safety-sensitive function” would be removed from performing their duties if they have a blood or breath alcohol concentration of 0.04 or more. That is half the legal limit for driving in the United States. Pilots also are not allowed to drink any alcohol within eight hours of acting or attempting to act as a crew member.

Clifton was taken into police custody. Federal authorities were notified and Clifton was released to JetBlue security.

He may face federal charges, the NFTA said.

Derek Dombrowski, manager of corporate communications for JetBlue Airways, emailed a statement following the disclosure of the incident:

“The safety of JetBlue’s customers and crewmembers is our first priority. We adhere to all DOT rules and requirements concerning alcohol at all times and have a very strict zero tolerance internal alcohol policy. We are aware of the incident that occurred this morning in Buffalo and are cooperating fully with law enforcement. We are also conducting our own internal investigation. The crewmember involved has been removed from his duties.