A January 2013 photo released by the Metropolitan Airports Commission shows American Eagle pilot Kolbjorn Kristiansen in an Airport Police booking photo.
A January 2013 photo released by the Metropolitan Airports Commission shows American Eagle pilot Kolbjorn Kristiansen in an Airport Police booking photo. (AP Photo/Airport Police)

A pilot has been charged with trying to fly a commuter jet out of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport while intoxicated.

Kolbjorn Jarle Kristiansen was arrested Jan. 4 in the jetway near the New York-bound American Eagle flight. After federal prosecutors declined to charge him, airport police filed three gross misdemeanor counts in Hennepin County District Court on Tuesday.

Kristiansen, 48, of Raleigh, N.C., is accused of operating or attempting to operate an aircraft under the influence of alcohol. The criminal complaint said a blood test showed his ethyl alcohol concentration to be 0.09, more than double the 0.04 limit at which state law considers a pilot impaired.

The man's lawyer said Kristiansen, originally from Norway, never tried to operate the aircraft.

"He never operated the plane. He never took a step to attempt to fly a plane, except being close to it. He went to the plane with the rest of the crew, but he didn't turn a switch, he didn't do anything to attempt to fly,' Minneapolis lawyer Peter Wold said.

He called Kristiansen "a delightful Norwegian' and "a good man and a dedicated pilot.'

Kristiansen has been suspended from flying. A conviction on each count he faces carries a maximum $3,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

The criminal complaint says that about 5:30 a.m. on Jan. 4, two airport police officers got off an elevator at Terminal 1 and one of them "smelled the odor of a consumed alcoholic beverage when he passed four pilots entering the elevator.'


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The officers approached an agent for the Transportation Security Administration and she said that she, too, had smelled the odor when the pilots had gone through her checkpoint.

The complaint says the airport officers followed the pilots to E Concourse and spied them entering a jetway serving gates E12 and E14. A third airport cop arrived to help.

They checked the airplane at Gate E14 and neither the pilot nor copilot smelled of booze. They went to Gate E12 and were told that the pilot, Kristiansen, had gone down the ramp to do his preflight inspection of the jet.

Two of the officers saw Kristiansen in the jetway and "observed that the defendant smelled of consumed alcoholic beverage on his breath, had glassy and watery eyes and was slow in responses to officer questions,' according to the probable-cause portion of the complaint written by Bloomington attorney Christopher Renz, who often prosecutes cases for the Metropolitan Airports Commission.

The document claims that Kristiansen "admitted that he had consumed alcohol the night before' and that he "admitted that he was planning to fly the plane.'

He was arrested instead.

The complaint said an initial breath test showed a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.107, but a more precise blood test analyzed by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension showed a level of 0.09.

He was released to airline employees the same day.

If a pilot drinks alcohol, federal rules say he or she must wait at least eight hours before climbing into the cockpit, or must have a blood-alcohol level below 0.04. That is half the level at which Minnesota law presumes a motorist to be impaired.

Records with the Federal Aviation Administration show that Kristiansen's most recent medical exam was in December and that he has to wear glasses for near vision. His most recent Airline Transport Pilot certificate was issued in November 2010; he is rated to fly three types of commuter jetliners and one type of commuter turboprop.

The flight that morning was scheduled to carry 53 passengers to New York's LaGuardia Airport. They had not boarded the plane; the flight was delayed more than two hours while a replacement pilot was found.

Kristiansen was charged by summons.

Wold said that no court date had been set, but that "Mr. Kristiansen will be here, on call, whenever a court date is set. He'll be produced and take the responsibility he needs to take."

David Hanners can be reached at 612-338-6516.