Unfortunately, one of the most frequent issues we deal with in our law practice is a pilot who has received a DUI. The FAA takes the issue of alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence VERY seriously (see for example FAR 67.307 (a) (4) and (b)). Pilots fall into two general problems with the FAA:
1) failure to properly report the event , and;
2) the event has been reported, but the circumstances of the DUI may result in further attention from the FAA.
Most pilots are aware that a DUI must be reported on the pilot’s next medical application when answering questions 18.v. However, a common misunderstanding is that an arrest is only reportable if there is also a DUI conviction. In many cases, a skilled criminal attorney can have the matter reduced to a less serious charge (say reckless driving) or have the matter dismissed entirely. This does NOT relieve the pilot of the responsibility to report the arrest on the medical application. The FAA has a team of very competent investigators who regularly compare the National Drive Registry (NDR) to the database of medical applications. A discrepancy results in a Letter of Investigation, which eventually could, and many times does, lead to an Emergency Order of Revocation.
In addition, the pilot has a reporting requirement under FAR 61.15 for a “motor vehicle action” that occurred within the last 60 days. A motor vehicle action includes:
“The cancellation, suspension, or revocation of a license to operate a motor vehicle [ . . .] for a cause related to the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol or a drug, while impaired by alcohol or a drug, or while under the influence of alcohol or a drug; . . .”
In many states, a DUI arrest triggers an automatic suspension of the driver’s license and the pilot then must comply with the reporting requirements of 61.15.
Another problem arises when a pilot properly reports a DUI to the FAA. One of the primary concerns for the FAA in these instances is that of alcohol dependence. During the DUI arrest, if a pilot provides a breath or blood sample that produces a BAC of over .15, the FAA is concerned that the pilot may have an “increased tolerance” of alcohol (see FAR 67.307 (a)(4)(ii)). Once a diagnosis of alcohol dependence is made, the FAA is genuinely concerned about the pilot’s safety. Often times the pilot will be grounded while undergoing additional evaluations, treatment or after care in order to determine the pilot’s fitness to fly. This can be a very expensive and time consuming process. The best advice: Don’t drink and drive if you want to fly airplanes.