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CONTACT 13: Pilots can keep flying despite DUI arrest

Posted at 5:45 PM, Nov 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-23 21:57:19-05

Wednesday marks the start of the year's busiest travel weekend. We all know the roads are risky with potential drunk drivers, but what about the air?

Contact 13 found your pilot may be too dangerous to drive, but still allowed to fly.

Pilots don't have to report a failed breath test or driver's license suspension to the Federal Aviation Administration for 60 days. 

And even after a DUI conviction, that's no guarantee the pilot will lose their license to fly.

Las Vegas ranks as the number one Thanksgiving travel destination in the country. 

Nearly 750,000 airline passengers are expected to come through McCarran over the long weekend. 

That's a lot of folks trusting a lot of pilots to get them in and out of here safely. But is it safe for a pilot who's not allowed to drive, to still be able to fly?

On Oct. 2, Plainfield, Indiana police pulled over Robert Paul Harris -- a licensed airline pilot who was on his way to the airport. 

It's unclear whether Harris was reporting to work to fly a commercial plane. 

Police noted bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and trouble using his hands. Court documents show Harris blew a .29 which is more than three times the legal limit. 

He entered a plea of not guilty and his case is set for trial in January. 

Within days of his arrest, a judge ordered his driver's license be suspended immediately. But that wouldn't have kept him out of the cockpit.

"There's no requirement in the federal aviation regulations that you have a driver's license at all," said Bob Duncan, a flight instructor and attorney who has represented pilots arrested for drunk driving. 

He says the FAA does its own comprehensive investigation into drunk driving arrests. 

Their response depends on many factors, including the pilot's medical and criminal history.

Duncan believes, "The FAA process has been very effective in keeping pilots with alcohol problems under control in the sense that public safety is not put at risk."

Lael Hill with Mothers Against Drunk Driving is concerned about that and thinks the FAA should have stricter sanctions.

"Withholding their driver's license to operate a motor vehicle whether that's a plane or car."

Federal regulations say pilots should follow the eight-hour "from bottle to throttle" rule. 

Some airlines have stricter policies.