Can you get a pilot licence with a criminal record in the UK?

Can You Get a Pilot’s Licence with a Criminal Record?


Number of people in the UK in September 2017 with a criminal record.

There are many restrictions on who can become a pilot, from eyesight to height! With over 11 million people in the UK with a criminal record, so it’s no surprise, one of the most common questions we get is whether someone with a criminal record can get a pilot’s licence.

The answer to that question is not simple, as it depends on a variety of factors. Unlike many professions, there are strict rules relating to the type of criminal records a pilot can have. It’s not impossible, but it is a difficult task, and there are certain things to watch out for.

In this blog post, we will discuss the various restrictions that apply to convicted criminals seeking to become pilots in the UK.

The good news: You can become an airline pilot with a criminal record.

Is a criminal record an automatic disqualification to being a pilot?

  • In most cases, a spent criminal record will not automatically disqualify you from becoming a pilot.
  • The bad news is that there are still many restrictions that apply to convicted criminals seeking to become pilots.
  • These restrictions range from the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s, and Department for Transport’s list of offences, to passing airline interviews.

There are also many private airlines and aviation companies who have their own rules about hiring convicted criminals. These rules vary across the globe, and in some cases foreign convictions don’t count. It is important to research the policies of different airlines and aviation companies before applying, this article only covers UK pilots.

Why do you need a criminal record check to work as a pilot?

The main reason you will need a criminal record check to work as a pilot is to obtain an airside pass. Working in the aviation industry, pilots need to be able to travel around airports — in security restricted areas — unescorted. As a result, all airlines in the UK will require all airside staff to undergo a basic criminal records check.

Current employees who hold an airport identification card must successfully pass a criminal record check (basic disclosure) on renewal of their airport identification card.

UK Civil Aviation Authority
All airside airport workers including pilots need a criminal record check

The immediate bans

The first thing to note for aspiring pilots with criminal records is that by law, the Department for Transport in the UK have four red flags for some types of convictions. Check that any offences don’t relate to these categories:

  • Terrorism related
  • Aviation related, e.g. for immigration or smuggling
  • Convictions that may make you liable to be blackmailed or coerced
  • Convictions that call into question an individual’s integrity and trustworthiness

As long as your conviction doesn’t fall into these four, you may still be able to be a pilot with a criminal record in the UK.

Expanded list of convictions

While the above list is an immediate red flag, there is a more comprehensive list of criminal records that bar you from flying. The CAA keep an expanded list of criminal offences that prohibit becoming a commercial pilot in a document known as CAP 2159.

Here’s a brief list of convictions that prevent becoming an airline pilot:
• Terrorism
• Offences against people
• Theft and dishonesty
• Sexual offences
• Controlled or illegal drugs
• Criminal damage
• Firearms
• Immigration
• Bomb and threat hoaxes
• Offensive weapons
• Public order
• Administration of justice

5 “minor” convictions that can stop you becoming a pilot

Everyone expects major convictions to be a barrier to becoming a pilot. Would you want the captain to be convicted of manslaughter or a terrorism related offence!?

However, due to the strict conditions imposed by the Department for Transport in the UK, there are a few more minor criminal offences — acceptable in other professions — that restrict working as a pilot.

spent convictions pilot

The vast majority of more “minor” offences, revolve around trust, with integrity seen as a key pilot competency.

  1. Making off without payment. Skipping a hotel bill, or not paying a taxi driver — if prosecuted — could technically be enough to stop you from becoming a an airline pilot.
  2. False accounting. Dubious tax avoiding schemes, undeclared income, or a side business without proper accounts can all fall under this.
  3. Dishonest representation for obtaining a benefit or advantage. Aka, benefits fraud. This covers everything from moving in a partner into a single occupancy flat, to failing to promptly let authorities know that you’re now medically fit to work.
  4. Unauthorised modification of computer material. There are several prohibited criminal records regarding the 1990s computer misuse act.
  5. Perjury, or perverting the course of justice. In simple terms, lying in court after promised to tell the truth.

The Airlines view

There are a few reasons why airlines and aviation companies may be reluctant to hire convicted criminals.

  • Firstly, a criminal record can suggest that the person is not trustworthy or reliable, something airlines are exceptionally keen on given the safety focus, and investment in training costs.
  • Secondly, a criminal history may raise concerns about the individual’s ability to handle stressful situations, which form a key part of pilot training.
  • Finally, if an airline or aviation company hires a pilot with a criminal record, they may worry that the person could encounter problems later in their training or career, such as obtaining a US visa.

While organisations like Unlock work tirelessly to help people with convictions move on positively in their lives by campaigning against the stigma of a criminal record, unfortunately prejudices among airlines, and their hiring processes also remain.

Do you have to tell your airline about a conviction?

The Department for Transport (DfT) requires a basic criminal record disclosure for certain roles. This shows unspent convictions only.

Criminal record checks in aviation —

No. There is a list of jobs that require applicants to detail any convictions, spent or unspent, such as high court judges, or specialist roles working with children. This is detailed in The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

The role of pilot does not fall within the list of exemptions so they do not have to tell their employer about any previous convictions that are now spent.


If you have a criminal record and are interested in becoming a pilot, we hope this blog post has cleared up some of your questions regarding spent convictions and types of offence.

However, the best advice for any aspiring UK pilots with criminal records, is to seek professional guidance. Commercial pilot training is an expensive, and time-consuming process.

Meet with a lawyer to discuss your options. A good lawyer can help you understand the restrictions that apply to you and how to best navigate the process of becoming a pilot with a criminal record.

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