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Colorado air traffic controller removed after failing alcohol test

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Air traffic controller drunk on job?
  • NEW: There are no indications of any problems during his shift, FAA officials say
  • The air traffic controller's condition was discovered during a routine, random test
  • The union president calls the incident "deeply troubling"
  • The controller works at Denver Center

For more on this story, check out CNN affiliate KMGH

Washington (CNN) -- The Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged Tuesday it removed a Colorado air traffic controller from his post earlier this month after he failed an alcohol test.

During a routine, random test, the veteran controller was found to have a blood-alcohol level exceeding the allowed limit, the FAA said.

"The controller in question is not working air traffic," and the FAA is "investigating the incident," FAA spokeswoman Sasha Johnson said in a written statement.

CNN affiliate KMGH reported the test took place July 5, when the controller was more than six hours into his eight-hour shift.

He works at the Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center in Longmont, also known as Denver Center, officials said. Denver Center handles high-altitude air traffic over several states.

FAA officials told CNN there is no indication there was any problem with operations or air traffic during the controller's shift. They declined to name the controller, or to say if he had failed previous alcohol or drug tests.

Officials said the controller was given both drug and alcohol tests, but they declined to give the test results.

According to FAA policy, controllers are removed from safety sensitive positions if they have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.02% or higher, and formal proceedings are taken if the level is 0.04% or higher.

A family member told KMGH the controller was given a choice to either resign or enter a rehabilitation program, and he chose rehab.

Since no aircraft incidents were involved, the controller has not been charged with a federal crime, KMGH reported, adding the controller could eventually return to his job.

Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association -- the union representing controllers -- called the incident "deeply troubling."

"We do not condone what is now being investigated to have taken place at Denver Center," Rinaldi said in a statement. "We are proud of our safety record both there and at every facility and will continue to work to keep our airspace system the world's safest."

Earlier this year, a slew of incidents involving air traffic controllers falling asleep on duty sparked widespread calls for reform and increased oversight. Hank Krakowski, who was the FAA's air traffic control chief, resigned in April.

In addition to testing its own employees for drugs and alcohol, the FAA also inspects airlines' testing programs. Just last month, the agency proposed fining United Airlines $584,375 after a federal inspection showed that under the airline's testing protocols, pilots and flight attendants were far more likely to be excused from random drug and alcohol tests than ground-based employees.

In 2008, for instance, 25% of pilots and 44% of flight attendants were excused from taking drug tests, while only 5% of ground personnel were excused, the FAA said.

CNN's Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.