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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Michigan

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Pilot Sentenced For Operating Aircraft While Under The Influence Of Alcohol At Cherry Capital Airport

          GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN — Acting U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge announced today that Sean Michael Fitzgerald, 36, of Boca Raton, Florida, was sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker for operating a common carrier under the influence of alcohol. Fitzgerald will serve 12 months and 1 day confinement, 3 years of supervised release, and pay a $5,500 fine. Chief Judge Jonker commented that public deterrence is needed to remind the public and the flying community that this behavior is intolerable.

          The evidence at trial established that on August 25, 2016, Fitzgerald arrived at the Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, Michigan, to co-pilot a private charter to Bedford, Massachusetts. On the way to the airport and once there, witnesses observed obvious signs of intoxication, including slurred speech, the smell of alcohol on his breath, and bloodshot eyes. Fitzgerald proceeded to the plane and began the pre-flight preparation process before he was arrested. Among other tasks, he inspected the plane, completed systems checks, turned on the auxiliary power unit, and received clearance for the flight’s route from air traffic control. After the arrest, his blood alcohol content was measured at 0.343%.

          "Without prompt action by the pilot and airport personnel, this incident could have developed into a tragedy on the ground or in the air," Birge said. "I hope this sentence serves to deter pilots from showing up for work intoxicated and endangering all those who work at airports or fly for work or pleasure."

          "The safety of commercial aviation is of utmost importance to the FBI and cannot be compromised. Today’s sentencing is a reminder that operating an aircraft while intoxicated endangers the public and can cause real life consequences," said David P. Gelios, Special Agent in Charge, Detroit Division of the FBI. "While troubling, this case does not reflect on the vast majority of flight crew professionals who conduct themselves in the best interest of public safety. It does reinforce the importance of how the public's vigilance can result in the protection of other people’s lives."

          The FBI and the Traverse City Police Department investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Clay M. West and Justin M. Presant prosecuted it.


Updated October 18, 2017