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Sun, Jun 17, 2007

New Mexico To US Airways: No License, No Liquor Sales

State Refuses To Extend 90-Day Temporary License To Serve

The State of New Mexico has drawn its line in the Albuquerque sand, refusing to extend a 90-day temporary liquor license to US Airways following several incidents of serving alcohol onboard to intoxicated individuals, reported the Associated Press.

In November, passenger Dana Papst drove the wrong way on Interstate 25, killing himself and five members of a New Mexico family in a head-on collision. His blood alcohol level was four times the legal limit.

According to reports, US Airways had served alcohol to Papst, even though witnesses said he appeared to be intoxicated. Police said Papst also bought beer at a Bernalillo, NM convenience store after disembarking from his flight in Albuquerque.

Following the crash, department officials reviewed airline liquor licenses, discovering US Airways was among several airlines that lacked state licenses.

Since then, five airlines have submitted applications, and one stopped serving alcohol on New Mexico flights, according to department documents.

As ANN reported, the state cited US Airways in January in connection with the Papst accident, and prohibited the airline from serving liquor on New Mexico flights until the airline received a state liquor license.

US Airways was granted a temporary 90-day license.

At a hearing on Monday, the head of the state Regulation and Licensing Department sought assurances that US Airways was taking steps to avoid serving alcohol to intoxicated passengers.

Said Santa Fe lawyer Michael Campbell, representing US Airways, the airline has no intentions of sending drunken people out on the roads of New Mexico.

Wednesday's decision came down one day before the temporary license was set to expire.

"US Airways has done little, if anything, to consider implementing the state's required alcohol server training to identify alcohol impaired or intoxicated passengers," the state Regulation and Licensing Department said in denying the extension.

The airline said Wednesday it sent the department a letter explaining that it plans to incorporate aspects of New Mexico's liquor-server training program into its flight crew training program. The state, however, had yet to receive the letter.

The Papst incident was not to be the only one involving US Airways serving liquor to an intoxicated passenger. The state cited the airline again last month for serving an intoxicated person after the passenger was arrested at a DWI roadblock less than half an hour after leaving Albuquerque's airport. He told authorities he had been drinking at the Phoenix airport and on his US Airways flight from Phoenix to Albuquerque. His blood-alcohol level was .16, according to police, twice New Mexico's legal limit for intoxication.

Although Monday's preliminary hearing was held to determine if in fact the airline had submitted all the documentation for a permanent license, the hearing was different in that it included others in addition to the usual hearing officer and company officials, reported the Free New Mexican.

In addition to department Superintendent Edward Lopez, those in attendance included Gary Tomada, head of the department's Alcohol & Gaming Division, the department's legal counsel, several relatives of the people killed in the Papst crash, news reporters, and four US Airways officials.

During the hearing, Lopez asked officials whether the airline had incorporated any of New Mexico's alcohol-server training materials into the airline's training program.

Lopez noted that the department had issued the airline a temporary license after the airline's attorney wrote that the airline was reviewing the state's training materials and might incorporate portions of them into the company's training materials.

US Airways Vice President Michael Minerva said the company hadn't yet had a chance to incorporate any of the state's materials because the airline trains new flight attendants in September; there hasn't been a new class since the Papst crash, he said.

After reading aloud the state's training handbook about how to manage intoxicated people who are intent on driving and how to identify impairment and intoxication, Lopez said he had hoped the airline would already have incorporated those sections of the handbook.

To which Minerva responded: The airline is considering the state's entire training program.

However, in a contrary response, US Airways attorney Campbell later said, "Our training materials are, we believe, sufficient in the recognizing and treatment of intoxicated persons."

When Lopez asked if the airline had done anything differently in regard to alcohol-server training since the Papst crash, Campbell said the airline had issued a notification about the subject of intoxicated people.

Ray Collins Sr., father of Renee Collins-Gonzales, who was killed in the Papst crash with her husband and three children, also spoke at the hearing, challenging US Airways to not just comply with minimal training standards for serving alcohol, but to set an industry-wide example.

FMI: www.rld.state.nm.us/index.html, www.usairways.com

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