On Friday, a federal court in Michigan sentenced pilot Sean Michael Fitzgerald to 12 months and one day of prison for “operating” a Talon Air Challenger 604 while intoxicated on Aug. 25, 2016, at Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, Michigan. He faced up to 15 years imprisonment under federal guidelines. Fitzgerald, who was fired from Talon Air after charges were filed, was also fined $5,500 and given three years of supervised probation following release from prison.
Fitzgerald’s lawyer, Larry Willey, argued that Fitzgerald—whose blood alcohol content was determined to be 0.343, more than eight times the FAA's legal limit—by definition did not “operate” the aircraft. His lawyer noted that the aircraft’s engines were not started; no passengers were on board; the aircraft door was not closed; no clearance to move the aircraft was attempted or given, the aircraft was not moved; and the captain and defendant were “never seated together in the cabin [sic].”
However, Fitzgerald was arrested while wearing headphones and seated in the cockpit with the auxiliary power on, according to court documents. According to handwritten notes filed in the court docket, the jury struggled with the definition of “operate,” but in the end rendered a guilty verdict.