What Happens When a Pilot Gets a DUI in California?
For many professionals, a DUI arrest or conviction can trigger mandatory penalties or disciplinary action. A DUI can carry significant consequences for a person with a pilot’s license. Pilots must notify the Federal Aviation Administration within sixty days if they are convicted of any DUI charge. They must also inform the agency of any driver’s license suspension related to alcohol or drugs, even if there is no conviction.
Does a DUI Affect a Pilot’s License?
A pilot’s flying privileges and professional livelihood can all be impacted. A DUI can lead to suspension proceedings and other disciplinary action taken against a pilot’s license.
It all begins when someone is arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. The Federal Aviation Administration is automatically notified of a DUI arrest when a person is booked at the time of arrest and has their fingerprints run through the LiveScan database. If the FAA is not notified of the arrest, it may view this as a factor favoring stricter punishment.
The FAA will take action against a pilot’s license for DUI convictions and any alcohol-related driver’s license suspension that an administrative or other agency may impose. Even if a person is not found guilty of driving under the influence, they must report the incident to the FAA and could still face disciplinary action. Similarly, if the FAA is not notified, it may view this as a factor favoring stricter punishment.
How Far Back Does the FAA Check For DUI?
When you apply to be a pilot, you must complete FAA Form 8500-8, an application for a medical certificate. By signing this form, you authorize the National Driver Register (NDR) to release information about your driving record to the FAA. If there is a DUI or any information about the influence of alcohol on your NDR report, the FAA will become aware of it.
You also have some disclosure requirements outlined in the FAA Form 8500-8. You must disclose any history of drug abuse or alcohol dependency, regardless of how far back in your life this spans. You must also disclose any record of DUI conviction, any administrative action that resulted in denial, suspension or revocation of your driver’s license or you having to attend a rehabilitation or educational program.
How Does a DUI Affect FAA Medical?
The FAA states that a single DUI conviction or administrative action may not be cause for denial if there are no other instances or indicators of substance dependence or abuse. However, a history of alcohol or drugs can make getting your FAA medical certificate very difficult. Without this certificate, you cannot get a license or keep flying privileges.
Can a Pilot’s License Be Revoked?
Yes, this is a possible outcome. By law, a DUI can be grounds for suspension, revocation, or denial of an application for a license. The FAA will take action against a pilot’s license for DUI convictions and any alcohol- and/or drug-related administrative actions leading to a driver’s license suspension. A pilot must request a DMV hearing to avoid or mitigate any possible driver’s license suspension.
DUI and Pilots – Your Medical Certificate
An FAA medical certificate is evidence of a person’s physical fitness to fly. Physical fitness includes all types of bodily well being, including good mental health and a lack of substance abuse issues. As a pilot, a person must protect other air professionals and air travelers and conduct themselves accordingly.
To obtain a medical certificate, you must be examined by an FAA-designated aviation medical examiner. If you receive a medical certificate, a medical examiner attests you pass a medical exam and have an excellent medical history. Pilots must have their certificates in their possession at all times while flying.
Flying Under the Influence in California
Flying a commercial or private aircraft under the influence of alcohol or drugs (FUI) is illegal in California. No one may operate an aircraft in the air, ground, or water with a blood alcohol content of 0.4 or more. This also applies to the operation of drones. A person can be charged as a drunken drone operator.
Flying Under the Influence in California (FUI) Penalties
An FUI is punishable by law as follows:
- First-time offense- mandatory jail time of 30 days and up to six months in county jail plus up to $1,000 in fines (not to mention legal costs and other fees).
- Second or subsequent conviction- up to 1 year in jail and $1,000 in fines, with no leeway for probation or the court being able to suspend the execution of the sentence.
- If bodily injury or death is caused, a person may face up to 15 years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.
Pilots of any aircraft are subject to California’s implied consent law. This means if they are arrested for suspicion of flying under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they must submit to a chemical test. Refusal to do so can result in fines and suspension or revocation of their pilot’s license.
In addition to violations of the California public utilities code, which carries strict punishment, the FAA will also punish a person for any such conduct. It can begin license suspension proceedings against any pilot found to have been drinking within eight hours of flying. A person may face federal criminal consequences as well.
Alcohol and Substance Abuse for Pilots
Professional pilots can find themselves under a considerable amount of daily stress. They are responsible for the safety of hundreds of people at a time, must deal with long work hours, challenging sleep schedules, and must be constantly alert on the job. Unfortunately, alcohol or drugs can be a way some choose to deal with stress.
The FAA requires pilots to submit to randomized testing and recommends various practices when it comes to alcohol:
- Never fly while under the influence of alcohol or any drug that could adversely affect safety.
- Wait 24 hours after drinking before flying.
- Refrain, at minimum, from any alcohol in the 8 hours before a flight.
- Avoid any flight while suffering a hangover- 8 hours is not always enough time to bring blood alcohol concentration below the legal limits.
For pilots relying on alcohol to alleviate stress, consider seeking treatment before the problem gets out of hand.
FAA Administrative Actions
An FAA administrative action can mean many things. It can refer to a certificate action, civil penalty action, or informal procedures and settlements. The FAA has an enforcement division that carries out these actions.
A certificate action can involve suspensions or revocations of pilots holding FAA-issued certificates, such as medical certificates. They are governed by 49 USC § 821 and can be for a certain amount of time or permanent. Revocation occurs when the FAA concludes a person is no longer qualified to hold a certificate. Most orders of suspension or revocation can be appealed.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) handles appeals in a two-tiered process. Administrative law judges comprise the first level of appeal, and their decision may be appealed to the full NTSB. After that, any further appeals go to the US Court of Appeals.
A civil penalty action can lead to the FAA imposing up to $50,000 in fines against a pilot. Under some circumstances, the penalties can be much more. The FAA starts a civil penalty action by notifying a pilot of the proposed action. Just as with certificate actions, a pilot may appeal the notice, and go through similar stages of appeal.
All other enforcement cases usually fall under the category of informal procedures. A pilot will have an opportunity to have an informal conference with an FAA attorney and present any information that may shed a more favorable light on the situation or mitigating evidence. These matters can sometimes be resolved early on.
If an enforcement action is not resolved after an initial conference, it can often still be settled without a full-blown litigation. The parties may agree to a reduced civil penalty amount, dropped charges, or no violation on a person’s record conditioned on other compromises.
DUI Legal Assistance for Pilots
If you are a licensed pilot or are training to be a pilot and face a DUI, speak with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Most attorneys offer a free consultation to discuss your case initially. Our office provides a free case evaluation.
There are much higher stakes in DUI cases where professional licenses are involved. You should have an attorney familiar with federal aviation regulations to represent you in any administrative action, criminal prosecution, and reporting required by the federal aviation administration. You will need an aggressive defense strategy.
DUI and Pilots – Your Employer
After a DUI arrest, a pilot must also discuss this issue with their employer. A pilot should not be surprised if their employer temporarily grounds them until a court matter is resolved. If they are convicted, it is likely they will be fired. If the FAA denies a pilot their medical certificate, a pilot cannot fly. An employer who hasn’t terminated you yet, probably will at this point.
Can You Be a Pilot With a DUI?
Yes, it is possible but not guaranteed. Drunk driving is no laughing matter to the FAA. You must demonstrate that you are fit to fly and take the safety and lives of others very seriously. If you have a DUI on your record, your approval of your medical certification will, at minimum be delayed and potentially denied.
If you have a history of drinking or alcohol issues, you must show you have taken steps to address your issues and have recovered. A medical examiner may still refuse to certify you to the FAA.
In addition, even if there is just one DUI, a medical examiner may still defer your application to the FAA if any of the following are true:
- You refused a breath test or chemical test;
- Your blood alcohol content was greater than .15;
- You have any criminal record in the past two years or three or more arrests in your life; or
- You have two arrests in the last ten years.
If your certification is deferred, you can expect more paperwork and further questions about your past and continued sobriety. You should seek legal assistance if you wish to apply for a pilot’s license after a California DUI.
FAA Mandatory Reporting of DUI Convictions or Administrative License Suspension
The Federal Code of Regulations requires pilots to notify the FAA, in writing, of any drug- and/or alcohol-related motor vehicle action within 60 days. A pilot must report the following incidents if they occurred after November 29, 1990:
- Any violation of a federal or state DUI statute
- Any cancellation, suspension, or revocation of a license to operate a motor vehicle related to the use of alcohol or drugs
- Any denial of an application for a driver’s license related to the use of alcohol or drugs
A pilot must send a second notification letter if they are later convicted under California law, also within 60 days.
Failure to give notice of a motor vehicle action or conviction can lead to denial of an application for licensure for up to one year after the date of the motor vehicle matter or suspension or revocation of any license. A pilot must also report any drug or alcohol-related arrests on their next application for a medical certificate.
Talk To A DUI Defense Attorney
As mentioned above, an experienced attorney can evaluate your case and discuss your options with you. A lawyer serving DUI clients will often offer a free no obligation consultation and everything discussed is protected by the attorney client relationship.
Schedule a free consultation with one of our expert California DUI attorneys here.
Interested in this topic or want to learn more about DUIs in California? Check out our recent article about whether or not a DUI charge could lead to termination of employment, and other related articles on our blog, which is updated regularly!
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