Airline Liquor Rules Vary by State

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.


New Mexico could become second to require server training of flight attendants

Rules: N.M. airline liquor license costs $1,250 each year

From Maine to California, most states require airlines that serve alcohol to hold a state license.

Only Alaska, however, specifically requires flight attendants to undergo alcohol-server training. New Mexico will become the second if officials follow through on recent statements by the state's top liquor regulator.

A survey of laws in the 50 states found all but 13 require airlines to apply for something similar to New Mexico's public-service liquor license for transportation companies.

Bill Roche, enforcement supervisor for the Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, said his state added the requirement that airline personnel undergo alcohol server training in 1993.

Airlines using Alaska airports must report to state officials the form and substance of the training they give their flight personnel, Roche said.

The superintendent of New Mexico's Regulation and Licensing Department, Edward Lopez, said last month that the state hasn't required flight attendants to complete state-certified training. But he said that policy is about to change.

The issue arose after a Nov. 11 highway crash involving Dana Papst of Tesuque, 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-size bottles of whiskey, although witnesses said Papst appeared intoxicated. After Papst got off the plane at Albuquerque International Sunport, investigators said, he stopped at a Bernalillo convenience store and bought a six-pack of beer on his way to Santa Fe.

After a review of airline licenses, the state Regulation and Licensing Department sent cease-and-desist letters to three airlines, including US Airways, that were serving liquor on New Mexico flights but lacked a state license.

Roland Herwig, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, said the federal government doesn't regulate the serving of alcohol. That is a matter left to state governments.

Michael Browde, constitutional law professor at The University of New Mexico School of Law, said states are in charge of liquor regulations because the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which repealed Prohibition, assigns alcohol regulation to the states.

Matt Cook, director of the Colorado Liquor Enforcement Division and a vice president of the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators, said the reason most states require airlines to have a liquor license is because of the authority specified under the 21st Amendment. That includes the right to control liquor transportation, importation, temperance and taxation, he said.

R.J. O'Hara, a Philadelphia lawyer who specializes in multistate licensing coordination for the National Association of Alcoholic Beverage Licensing Attorneys, said most states require airlines to hold liquor licenses because they buy and store liquor on the ground.

The definition of storing liquor includes having it aboard a plane while it is on the ground, O'Hara said.

Lopez said one reason for New Mexico's licensing requirement is to keep the public safer by requiring airlines to know the state's liquor laws, including the prohibition against selling liquor to people who are visibly intoxicated.

But enforcement efforts apparently haven't been vigorous. Lopez acknowledged that until the Papst crash, his department had not reviewed whether airlines that operated in New Mexico actually held a liquor license. And, until the recent cease-and-desist letters, he said, the state of New Mexico hadn't cited any airline with a liquor-law infraction.

From those airlines that did have a state license, New Mexico collected a fee of $1,250 a year.

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