When pilots are flying a commercial airline, they may be responsible for the lives of hundreds of passengers. However, pilots are also subject to scrutiny for their activities outside the job. To be a pilot, an individual has to pass a number of tests, educational requirements, and medical assessments. Even after getting a pilot's license, pilots have to follow FAA regulations to maintain their license. A California drunk driving arrest can be a serious problem for pilots.
Alcohol and Substance Abuse for Pilots
Commercial pilot jobs can be stressful. When pilots are off the job, they may want to unwind with a couple of drinks. Even if a pilot is never under the influence of alcohol while piloting a plane, driving under the influence of alcohol while off-the-clock can still put their professional pilot's license at risk.
FAA Administrative Actions
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates aviation in the U.S., including the licensing of commercial and private pilots. The FAA is very strict about alcohol-related traffic offenses and substance abuse issues. Alcohol and drugged driving offenses are regulated under FAA Code §61.15. A “motor vehicle action” means:
- A conviction for the violation of any federal or statute relating to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, impaired, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
- A driver's license suspension or revocation related to a DUI; or
- Denial of a driver's license related to a DUI.
If a pilot has more than one motor vehicle action within a 3 year period, the pilot could be subject to denial of their flight certificate or authorization for up to 1 year after the date of the DUI action, or suspension or revocation.
FAA Mandatory Reporting of DUI Convictions
After a motor vehicle action, including a DUI conviction or DUI arrest administrative license suspension, a pilot is required to provide a written report or online notification letter to the FAA, Security and Hazardous Materials Safety Office within 60 days after the action. Failure to provide a report could result in suspension, revocation, or denial of flight authorization. The report must include:
- Name, address, date of birth, and airman certificate number;
- Type of violation;
- Date of the conviction or administrative action;
- State that holds the event records; and
- A statement of whether the motor vehicle action resulted from the same incident or arose out of the same factual circumstances related to a previously reported motor vehicle action.
Even if all the events resulted from the same incident, a pilot may have to send out multiple written reports, based on each motor vehicle action. For example, if a driver is pulled over and arrested for a DUI and refuses a chemical test, the driver may have to file a separate report:
- After an administrative per se suspension
- After a license suspension for chemical test refusal
- After a conviction for a drunk driving offense
However, in each report, the pilot should indicate the motor vehicle action resulted from the same incident as previously reported.
Reporting Administrative Per Se License Suspension
Pilots are also required to report administrative actions, including a license suspension by the DMV when it relates to impaired driving. In California, drivers will have their license administratively suspended by the DMV based on a drunk driving arrest. Even if the driver is never convicted, they may face a suspension unless they challenge the DMV suspension at an APS hearing. However, you only have 10 days after a DUI arrest to formally request a DMV hearing, or your license will be suspended 30 days after the arrest.
Chemical Test Refusal
Drivers in California who refuse to submit to a chemical test after a drunk driving arrest face a 1-year license suspension. If a pilot refuses a breath or blood test after a DUI arrest, the FAA may suspend or revoke any certificate, rating, or authorization, or deny an application for up to a year.
It is important to note that just because a driver refused a chemical test after an arrest does not mean they will not face criminal DUI charges. The court can make a negative inference from refusing a chemical test, assuming the driver refused because they knew they were over the limit. Talk to your DUI defense attorney about your options if you refused a breath or blood test.
FAA Investigations After a DUI
After a DUI is reported, the FAA initiates a preliminary investigation. If the pilot fails to report an alcohol or drug-related vehicle action and the FAA becomes aware of the event, the FAA will begin a formal investigation and notify the pilot of the investigation. The FAA has access to a pilot's driving record through the National Driver Register (NDR), including license suspensions, administrative license actions, and DUI convictions.
DUI Legal Assistance for Pilots
If you were not convicted and avoided a license suspension through fighting the DMV hearing suspension, you may not have anything to report to the FAA after a drunk driving arrest. East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 38 years of DUI experience and understands the consequences involved for professional licensure after a DUI arrest. Representing airline professionals in Contra Costa and Alameda County, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the local DUI laws, and the local officers and prosecutors involved. Contact East Bay DUI lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.