Aircraft Pilots and Colorado DUI Charges

Although the FAA has its own set of rules for “Flying Under the Influence,” professional and casual pilots can also lose their aircraft licenses as a result of alcohol-related motor vehicle offenses and failures to timely report related arrests, charges and dispositions within particular time frames.

For example, the FAA will routinely deny or revoke an application for a pilot’s license in cases where the applicant has more than one alcohol-related incident within a span of three years.

One of the most common problems for pilots who have been arrested or charged with an alcohol-related driving offense is the failure to timely report the incident to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Despite various warnings, this is perhaps the most frequently sanctioned action by the FAA.  Many pilots mistakenly believe that such charges won’t be discovered; others are simply unaware of all of their reporting requirements or incorrectly believe that compliance with one reporting requirement is sufficient to satisfy them all.  Nor, as some believe, are the reporting requirements nullified by a successful plea agreement or acquittal at trial.

Under the provisions of Federal Aviation Regulation 14 CFR Parts 61 and 67, the FAA has the authority to revoke, suspend, or cancel a pilot’s license for a “motor vehicle action,” which includes any arrest or conviction for a DUI or DWAI, as well as any administrative action in which the driver’s license is suspended or revoked by a State agency, such as Colorado’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

The provisions of  14 CFR 61.15 require all pilots to send a “notification letter” to the FAA’s Security and Investigations Division in Oklahoma City within 60 calendar days of the effective date of any alcohol-related arrest, conviction or administrative action.  But this is only the first step in compliance.  In addition, each event, conviction or administrative action requires a separate notification letter.  What does this mean?  It means that if a pilot’s driver’s license is suspended by the State of Colorado for failing a blood or breath test, or refusing to test as required by Colorado’s Express Consent Law,  and if the person is later convicted in a district or county court of an alcohol-related offense involving the same incident, the pilot is required to notify the FAA of both “events” even though the matters will be treated by the FAA as a “single incident” for other purposes, such as determining whether the offender has sustained “repeated offenses.”

In addition, FAA regulations require the reporting of certain alcohol-related incidents that may fall outside the usual ambit of State driver’s license regulations, such as “boating while intoxicated” or the intoxicated operation of other recreational transports.

Thus, the reporting obligations can go well beyond the actual sanctions imposed by State law.

There is virtually no chance that such incidents will fly under the radar of the FAA.  The FAA routinely and systematically reviews various databases, containing arrest and conviction records, such as the National Driver Register.   If you fail to include any of the required data, or falsify any information, your FAA pilot and medical certificates will be revoked.

The reporting requirements don’t stop there.  The FAA requires all pilots to sign and submit a medical certificate attesting to their fitness to fly. When these certificates expire, applicants for renewal must submit to a flight physical before a designated physician.  The certification requires the applicant to report all criminal convictions, whether alcohol-related or not, as well as all motor vehicle, alcohol-related convictions and any administrative actions in which the driver’s license was suspended or revoked. It also requires the applicant to report any alcohol evaluations, counseling or education sessions that the person was required to attend as a part of any legal disposition.

Depending on the BAC level of any reported test  (or a refusal to allow police to take a sample if authorized by the express consent law), the medical examiner may deny the issuance of a medical certificate and redirect  the application to the Aeromedical Certification Department, which, in turn, can impose additional requirements, such as completion of a substance abuse program, before they will reconsider the issuance of a medical certificate.

Any pilot subjected to an arrest for any alcohol-related driving, boating or snowmobiling offense would be well-advised to seek an attorney at the earliest opportunity.

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