Prior to the drunken-driving crash that killed five members of a Las Vegas, N.M., family last November, the state apparently exercised minimal oversight of airlines serving liquor to passengers arriving in New Mexico.
But Edward Lopez, superintendent of the state Regulation and Licensing Department, said Wednesday that is about to change.
In the past, some airlines operating here didn't apply for the $1,250-a-year "public-service" license that state liquor officials now insist all air carriers must have to keep serving alcohol on flights using New Mexico airports.
Lopez said the state also plans to start certifying the training that airline personnel receive for serving alcohol.
He said his department could regulate airline training programs in the same way the state certifies the internal training programs of some large businesses such as grocery-store chains.
The state's Liquor Control Act does not expressly exempt airlines from alcohol-server training requirements, Lopez said.
In an e-mail on the subject Wednesday, Lopez referenced the Nov. 11 crash that involved Dana Papst, 44, of Tesuque, who police said had a blood-alcohol level four times the legal limit when he ran his truck head-on into a minivan on Interstate 25 near Santa Fe, killing five members of a family and himself.
Witnesses have said they saw
US Airways personnel hours earlier serve Papst two individual-size bottles of whiskey when he was visibly intoxicated. After Papst deplaned at the Albuquerque International Sunport, investigators have said, he stopped at a Bernalillo convenience store and bought a six-pack of beer on his way to Santa Fe.
"After leaving the Albuquerque airport, Dana Papst probably imperiled the lives of literally hundreds of innocent people as he traveled through downtown Albuquerque, the Big-I, Bernalillo and Santa Fe before ending the fatal trip, which began in the air," Lopez said.
Lopez said Wednesday that the current requirement for airlines to hold a public-service liquor license is intended to make the state safer because it legally requires airline servers to know New Mexico's alcohol laws, including the one that prohibits serving alcohol to a person who is already visibly intoxicated.
But Mark Rhodes, an Albuquerque lawyer who specializes in liquor licensing, said even if the state does start certifying the alcohol training of airline personnel, enforcement presents a problem.
Rhodes rhetorically asked whether the state would place Department of Public Safety investigators on flights to make sure airline personnel were following the law.
Peter Olson, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said he did not believe the department would put investigators on flights because it would take too much time away from enforcement of alcohol regulations at stores, restaurants and bars.
Instead, Olson said, the state would likely conduct a careful administrative review to make sure airlines have all their licenses and training procedures in order.
Before the Papst case, the department did not as a matter of course make sure that airlines have liquor-service licenses, Olson acknowledged. "We're doing that for sure now."
Lopez said, to his knowledge, this week's letter to US Airways ordering the airline to stop selling alcohol on flights in and out of New Mexico is the first time the state has penalized an airline for not complying with state liquor laws.
Lopez's predecessor, Arturo Jaramillo, who headed the state liquor agency for three years before moving to the state General Services Department, said Wednesday that the issue of airline liquor licensing never came up when he headed the department.
So far, neither US Airways nor any of a few other airlines without New Mexico licenses has applied for a public-service license, Lopez said. The state plans to issue three more cease-and-desist letters this week, Lopez has said. He would not name the airlines.
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.
State regulators sent letters to Frontier Airlines and Northwest Airlines to immediately stop sales on flights using New Mexico airports.
Citation may hamper airline's pending liquor license
UD Airways and Northwest have applied for state licenses, but Frontier Airlines has not. Frontier is not selling alcohol on New Mexico flights.