US Airways and Northwest Airlines have received temporary liquor licenses from the state of New Mexico and are again selling alcohol on flights in and out of the state.
But ExpressJet Airlines, an airline that begins service at Albuquerque International Sunport on Tuesday plans to sell alcohol in the air before the company gets a New Mexico liquor license, said Kristy Nicholas, a spokeswoman for the Houston-based company.
Nicholas said company officials have applied for a liquor license, but believe it is only necessary to buy alcohol in the state. The airline, which intends to provide flights to five Western cities and Ontario, Canada, will sell beer for $1 and wine and cocktails for $3, she said.
But a license is required to sell alcohol on flights, said Edward Lopez, superintendent of the state Regulation and Licensing Department, and the department plans to make that point clear with ExpressJet officials. He said ExpressJet applied for a liquor license without being asked, and the department has every indication the airline intends to comply with state law.
State law says airlines and railroads must have a liquor license before serving alcohol in the state, Lopez said, and the department interprets that to mean airlines must have a liquor license to serve alcohol on flights in and out of the state.
The issue of airline liquor licenses arose after a Nov. 11 crash involving Tesuque resident Dana Papst, who police say was drunk when he drove the wrong way on Interstate 25 near Santa Fe and killed five members of a Las Vegas, N.M., family.
Hours earlier, US Airways personnel had served Papst two individual-sized bottles of whiskey, although witnesses said Papst -- who also died in the crash -- already appeared intoxicated. After Papst got off the plane at the Sunport, investigators said, he stopped at a Bernalillo Redi-Mart and bought a six-pack of beer on his way to Santa Fe.
Northwest spokesman Dean Breest said the airline received the temporary license within the last week and has begun selling alcohol.
Breest said he hadn't heard of any customer complaints because of the lack of alcohol on flights and doesn't know how much the company makes from alcohol sales on board flights.
Drinks are complimentary in first class, Breest said, and cost $5 each in coach.
Valerie Wunder, a US Airways spokeswoman, said she did not immediately know when the airline received its temporary license and resumed selling alcohol on New Mexico flights.
After ExpressJet begins
offering New Mexico flights,
12 airlines will be doing that business in the state, according to a liquor-license status chart that Bob Hagan, spokesman for the state Regulation and Licensing Department, provided.
Three airlines, American Airlines, Continental Airlines and Southwest Airlines, already had public-service licenses before the department began looking into the matter.
Frontier Airlines has not applied for a license, but is not selling alcohol on New Mexico flights; Great Lakes and Mesa airlines do not sell alcohol on New Mexico flights; and Republic and Shuttle America airlines have submitted incomplete applications, the chart shows. America West has merged with US Airways and would come under that airline's license.
Department officials now believe all the airlines are in compliance with New Mexico law, either by not selling alcohol on flights or by having a temporary or permanent license, Hagan said.
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Citation may hamper airline's pending liquor license
State regulators sent letters to Frontier Airlines and Northwest Airlines to immediately stop sales on flights using New Mexico airports.
New Mexico plans to start certifying the training that airline personnel receive for serving alcohol.
Although New Mexico doesn't yet apply its alcoholic-beverage server training rules to flight attendants, New Mexico is one of 14 states that has a mandatory program for servers and sellers.