‘Very dangerous’: Alaska Airlines pilot headed to prison for flying plane while drunk

A Newport Beach man was sentenced Wednesday to a year and a day in federal prison for piloting an Alaska Airlines plane with a blood-alcohol level more than three times the legal limit in 2014.

David Hans Arntson, 63, pleaded guilty in February to a felony count of operating a carrier while under the influence. He acknowledged as part of a plea agreement that he was an alcoholic for a “substantial” portion of his career as an airline pilot.

U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney called Arntson’s offense “very dangerous” and ordered him to pay a $10,000 fine.


According to court documents, Arntson piloted two Alaska Airlines flights on June 20, 2014. The first was at 6:21 a.m. from San Diego to Portland, Ore. After a brief layover, he piloted a flight from Portland to Orange County.

After he landed at John Wayne Airport, Arntson was selected for random drug and alcohol testing by Alaska Airlines.

Breath tests conducted 15 minutes apart in an airport restroom indicated that Arntson had blood-alcohol concentrations of 0.134% and 0.142%. The federal limit for pilots is 0.04%, according to court records.

Arntson told investigators that he didn’t understand the test results since he hadn’t consumed alcohol that day. Arntson said he ordered a beer with dinner the night before the flight from San Diego but took only a few sips.

Arntson, who had worked for Alaska Airlines since 1982, was removed from “safety-sensitive duties” the day of the tests, according to the airline. He later retired because of medical issues.

“The defendant was at the controls during hundreds of flights carrying innumerable passengers — undoubtedly under the influence of alcohol during many of those trips,” U.S. Attorney Nicola Hanna said in a statement. “Fortunately, he was finally caught and the risk to passengers was stopped.”

Alaska Airlines spokesman Ray Lane said in a statement Wednesday: “Safety is the top priority at Alaska Airlines. While we do not comment on the specifics of misconduct by former employees, we are gratified that this individual will be held accountable for his actions.”

Fry writes for the Daily Pilot.


8:05 a.m.: This article has been updated with a comment from an Alaska Airlines spokesman.

This article was originally published at 7:25 a.m.