With several news stories emerging in the past several years about pilots flying commercial jets while under the influence as well as the release of the 2012 Denzel Washington movie “Flight,” although uncommon, I do get the question: can a person get a DUI for flying a plane under the influence of alcohol?
Undoubtedly the answer is yes. The more appropriate question, however, is, “how does driving a vehicle under the influence differ from flying a plane under the influence?”
First off, the California Vehicle Code does not apply to aircraft. Rather, crewmembers of civil aircrafts, including pilots, are governed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations section 91.17 states that, “no person may act or attempt to act as a crewmember of a civil aircraft within 8 hours after drinking alcohol, while under the influence of alcohol, while using any drug that affects the person’s faculties in any way contrary to safety, or while having an alcohol concentration [BAC] of 0.04 or greater in a blood or breath specimen.”
Furthermore, the FAA requires random alcohol screenings of pilots and are subject to an implied consent law similar to California’s DUI implied consent law.
Similarly, California Public Utility Code section 21407 reads, “It is unlawful for any person to operate an aircraft in the air, or on the ground or water in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another. In any proceeding charging operation of aircraft in violation of this section, the court in determining whether the operation was careless or reckless shall consider the standards for safe operation of aircraft prescribed by federal statutes or regulations governing aeronautics.”
California penalties for a first time FUI include a county jail sentence of 30 days to six months, and/or a fine of $250 to $1,000. Federal penalties, on the other hand, are far more severe and can include up to 15 years in federal prison and up to $250,000.