The U.S. Attorney in Tampa announced earlier this month that Philip Lavoie of Sarasota pleaded guilty to operating a common carrier while under the influence of alcohol. These types of cases can be tried in federal court because of the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration over commercial pilots and the applicability of its regulations.
The FAA has strict rules regulating the consumption of alcohol by crew members of any civil aircraft. Any person is prohibited from acting as a crew member if he or she has consumed alcohol within eight hours of a flight, if he or she is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .04 percent or greater. A pilot or crew member who violates any of these provisions faces imprisonment, fines, and revocation of his or her pilots license.
According to the information and testimony presented in court, Lavoie held a Commercial Pilot Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and was an employee of Flight Express, an air cargo company based in Orlando. On December 8, 2012, Lavoie was the pilot and lone occupant of Flight 840, which departed from Greensboro, North Carolina and was on the way back to Tampa.
Air traffic tower personnel observed that after takeoff, Lavoie had gone silent on his radio and was not in contact with them for significant periods during his flight. Lavoie also changed the altitude at which he was flying without the controllers’ permission and made deviations from his projected flight path. FAA controllers later alerted the authorities at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida, whereby two jet fighters were dispatched to investigate and attempt to establish contact with Lavoie’s plane. The Air Force jets never came into contact with the Flight Express plane because Lavoie ultimately re-established contact with air traffic controllers.
After landing in Tampa, Lavoie failed a voluntary field sobriety test. Later he submitted to a breathalyzer test. The results of two separate tests of his blood alcohol were 0.272 and 0.274. Both results exceeded 0.08, the point at which intoxication is presumed under Florida law.
Lavoie faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison.