If you’ve been convicted of driving under the influence, known as a DUI, then you might be wondering if you can still get a pilot’s licence? This is a popular question that affects a huge number of the American public — highlighted in the recent drink-driving statistics. In 2021, over 1 in 5 drivers in the USA self reported driving while over the limit.
The answer is technically yes, but there are some restrictions that you need to be aware of. Obtaining a DUI can have serious consequences for pilots, and the majority of pilots convicted will lose their jobs.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the rules surrounding getting a pilot’s licence with a DUI. Can they still fly if they’ve been convicted of drink-driving?
Disclaimer: This article covers the rules surrounding American pilots, and driving under the influence. We’ve covered the European aviation view on drink-driving, alongside many other disqualifying offences, in our article Can you get a Pilot’s licence with a criminal record?
Step 1: What are the rules?
The first thing to note is that to get a pilot’s licence with a DUI depends on three main factors. These are:
- If the offence is classed as a felony or a misdemeanour
- Individual airline HR policy
- The mandatory FAA 12-month suspension
1. DUI: Felony vs misdemeanour
If the offence is a felony, then it is highly unlikely that you will be able to get a pilot’s licence with a DUI. This is because felonies are generally seen as more serious offences, and they almost always exclude employment in aviation. Typically, felony convictions lead to jail time, whereas a misdemeanour might not.
When does a DUI become a felony?
To be charged with a felony DUI, there must be aggravating factors present. These can include, causing an accident that resulted in serious injury or death, having multiple prior DUI convictions, or even an excessively high blood alcohol level. Factors vary from state to state, but if any of these are present, then you will likely be facing a felony charge.
2. Company policy
It’s important to consider the airline’s HR view — within any individual company, policies differ. Even if the offence is only a misdemeanour, it can still be difficult to get a pilot’s licence with a DUI. Some carriers will prohibit applications from anyone with previous DUI.
As always in aviation, timing is everything. During hiring booms and pilot shortages, Major US airlines have been known to hire pilots with one DUI conviction. However, in more normal times most companies have their own policies in place regarding drinking and driving, and the practise is highly frowned upon.
Unfortunately, there is not a fixed answer to this question, and it will vary on a case by case basis. It really depends on the company, and the time, that you’re applying.
3. FAA influence
The final factor is the mandatory FAA 12-month suspension. This is a rule that applies to all pilots who have been convicted of drink-driving, regardless of misdemeanour or felony, and it applies to a pilot’s medical licence.
A notification letter must be submitted within 60 days from the effective date of a driver license suspension. This includes a suspension based on either failing a blood/breath test OR refusing to submit to a blood/breath test regarding an incident of operating a motor vehicle under the influence.Airmen and Drug- and/or Alcohol-Related Motor Vehicle Action(s) — FAA
Put simply, being convicted of an alcohol related driving offence means that your medical is suspended, and you will not be able to fly for at least 12 months after your conviction.
What if I don’t have a current FAA medical? Prospective pilots will also be prohibited from applying for a licence for 12 months.
After this period, you may be able to reapply for a medical licence depending on the level of blood alcohol in your system, and any aggravating factors during the arrest. However, it’s important to note that this is not a guarantee, especially if it’s a second DUI offence, or you have an additional criminal history.
DUI Summary: A checklist
So, what do you need to do if you want to get a pilot’s licence with a DUI?
Well, the first step is to look at your record. Make sure that your DUI is classed as a misdemeanour, is more than 12 months old, and that it is the only blemish. Realistically, any more than one criminal blemish will preclude this career path for you in the USA.
Once you’ve done that, you can then start to look at the different airlines that you might want to apply to, and take a look at their individual hiring practices. Remember, each company has their own policies, so it’s essential to do your research before you make any decisions.
Finally, we recommend that you speak to a professional. While FAA rules remain consistent, state law varies across the US, with DUI offences and employers attitudes categorised differently in some states. State specific aviation lawyers will be able to give the most relevant advice based on individual situations.