A SkyWest Airlines captain was grounded in Sioux Falls on Wednesday after an airport security officer reported he smelled of alcohol.
Airline officials called the pilot from the cockpit of Flight 4047 about 15 minutes before the flight was scheduled to take off at approximately 9 a.m. from Sioux Falls to Salt Lake City.
Police took a blood sample from the pilot, who was not arrested, pending the outcome. SkyWest placed the Salt Lake City-based pilot on administrative leave.
Federal Aviation Administration regulations require the grounding of pilots whose blood-alcohol readings are 0.04 percent or greater. SkyWest's blood-alcohol standard is 0.019.
"Our first concern has to be, and has always been, the safety of our passengers and our crew members," SkyWest spokeswoman Sabrena Suite-Mangum said Thursday. "With that, we have a zero-tolerance policy for violation of safety protocol."
Suite-Mangum declined to identify the pilot, but said he was scheduled to fly a CRJ200 regional jet with 50 seats, and has no criminal record.
Sioux Falls Police Chief Doug Barthel said the FBI is investigating the incident. Investigators will decide whether to arrest the pilot after they see the results of his blood test, the chief said.
Paul McCabe, an agent in the FBI's office in Minneapolis, confirmed the investigation but declined further comment.
Barthel said pilots go through the same security procedures passengers experience.
It was then when a Transportation Security Administration officer noticed him.
''We then made contact with the pilot on the plane and determined that he had been consuming some alcohol. At that point he was removed from the plane,'' Barthel said.
After a three-hour delay, the jet with 21 passengers aboard took off for Salt Lake City with another captain at the controls.
Talk that the SkyWest pilot was asked to leave the cockpit didn't stop Colorado-bound passenger Lana Boer from getting on her flight.
'It kind of makes you nervous,'' Boer said. ''But then if you think about that, you're just going to stress yourself out, and I would be paranoid and never leave the ground.''
Todd Barber, who was traveling from Pasadena, Calif., said, ''There was a little frustration, but I'm not going to let it tarnish what was a beautiful vacation in your wonderful state.''
Mike Kranz planned to be on the Salt Lake City flight en route to Missoula, Mont., for a South Dakota State University football game. He said he was disappointed with the delay but also relieved.
''It's a good thing they got him before he got on the plane and flew us somewhere,'' Kranz said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Alcohol related incident the second this summer
Wednesday's incident was the second related to alcohol this year involving pilots with links to Salt Lake City International Airport.
In July, airport police removed Southwest Airlines pilot Carl Fulton from the cockpit of a Boeing 737 jetliner and arrested him on suspicion of intoxication. A test showed that Fulton had a blood-level concentration well below the legal limit.
Fulton remains on administrative leave while the Southwest Airlines investigates him.
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