Pilots and DUI

Because of the special risks involved in flying an aircraft, if you are a licensed pilot and are arrested for a Driving Under the Influence in Colorado, or any other state, there are necessary steps to take if you want to retain your pilot’s license, or be eligible to have it reinstated.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates the activities of pilots and the requirements for licensing.  The FAA’s DUI/DWI compliance program began in November 1990 by Congressional act. The final rule, published in the Federal Register on August 1, 1990, is Federal Aviation Regulation 14 CFR Parts 61 and 67. These provisions were amended in 2009, to become even more severe. Under the current provisions, the FAA possesses the authority to revoke, suspend, or cancel your pilot’s license for a “motor vehicle action,” which includes any arrest or conviction for a DWI as well as any administrative action in which your driver’s license is suspended or revoked.

Under 14 CFR 61.15, all pilots must send a “notification letter” (which can be downloaded from the FAA’s website) to the FAA’s Security and Investigations Division in Oklahoma City within 60 calendar days of the effective date of an alcohol-related arrest, conviction or administrative action.  Reporting to the local FAA office is not sufficient. Each event, conviction or administrative action requires a separate notification letter. For example, if your driver’s license is suspended by the Colorado DMV for failing a blood or breath test, or refusing to test, and if you are later convicted of an alcohol-related offense involving the same incident, two notifications are required, even though the FAA will regard the suspension and the conviction as a “single incident” for purposes of determining whether you have sustained repeated offenses.

All such incidents must be reported and there is very little chance that such events will go unnoticed by the FAA. The FAA reviews various databases, including the National Driver Register on a weekly basis, which lists all traffic related convictions. If you fail to include any of the required data, or falsify any information, your FAA pilot and medical certificates will be revoked.

In addition, as a pilot, the FAA requires you to sign and submit a medical certificate attesting to your fitness to fly. When your certificate expires, you must submit to a flight physical before a designated physician. The certification requires you to report (1) all criminal convictions, whether alcohol-related or not, (2) all motor vehicle, alcohol-related convictions, specifically including boating or snowmobiling while intoxicated, (3) any administrative actions that suspended or revoked your driver’s license and (4) any alcohol evaluations, counseling or education sessions that you were required to attend.

If you had a BAC test that was 0.15 or higher, or if you refused to allow the police to take a sample, an aviation medical examiner may decline to issue a medical certificate and will defer the medical application to the Aeromedical Certification Department in Oklahoma City, which, in turn, will require you to obtain a substance abuse evaluation from an authorized counselor, at your expense, before the issuance of a medical certificate will even be considered.

If you have two separate alcohol-related incidents within three years, the FAA will deny your application for a pilot’s license or will revoke or suspend your present license.

For more information, see Federal Air Surgeon’s Medical Bulletin, 2009-4.