What Happens When a Pilot Gets a DUI

Male pilot and co-pilot checking instrument panel in airplane cockpit
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We've all heard stories of those pilots who drink and fly... or try to, anyway. But what happens to a pilot after he gets caught drinking and driving? For airline pilots, this question is a complicated one, but it is quite possible that the accused drunk pilot will be fired from his airline job. But that doesn't necessarily mean he won't fly again. 

What Typically Happens After a DUI

There are two pieces to the puzzle here.

 After a DUI, a pilot must answer to his or her company, as well as to the FAA. A pilot can be denied an aviation medical certificate for a DUI, which will prevent him or her from exercising the privileges of a pilot certificate. Beyond that, company policies are usually very strict surrounding alcohol use and felonies.

Aviation Medical Exams

When it comes to aviation medical exams an applicant may pass the exam successfully with a previous DUI (driving under the influence) or DWI (driving while intoxicated) on his or her record, but not without being examined by the FAA. Here are a few things to take note of if you find yourself with a drunk driving offense.

To start with, pilots must report any history of arrests, convictions or other administrative action on their medical exam application. In addition, they must provide details regarding a history of any kind of substance abuse, including alcohol, on the application.


Many people think they can get away with not reporting alcohol violations -- if you're a pilot, don't try this. The FAA obtains driving records for medical applicants, and if they find out you weren't forthcoming on your medical application, they will likely deny or revoke it, along with any pilot certificates you may hold.

If It's Your First and Only DUI 

A single DUI or DWI is not always a reason for an aviation medical examiner or the FAA to deny you a medical certificate, but your medical application might not be approved on the spot as usual. Instead, it might be deferred to the FAA for review and will take longer to process.

You will probably not be denied a medical certificate in the end if all the paperwork is done correctly. So if the DUI conviction was a few years ago during college and you've since become a mature member of society, you shouldn't have a problem getting a medical certificate.

If you received a DUI with a blood alcohol content less than 0.15, and you never refused to submit to blood alcohol testing, and you report it to the FAA as required, AND you have had no other arrest or conviction at any other time, your medical examiner has the authority to issue an aviation medical certificate without involving the FAA.

That's not all, though: You must also prove that you do not have a substance abuse problem, addiction problem and have kept an otherwise perfect record. In addition, you'll have to provide the examiner with all requested documentation, including court records and reports, a detailed history of your alcohol abuse and all alcohol-related incidents that may have occurred in your past within 14 days of your exam.

With all of this in mind, your aviation medical examiner can determine whether to issue a medical certificate or not. There are some cases, though, when your examiner will not be able to issue a medical certificate. Even with just one DUI or DWI, your application cannot be approved and will be deferred to the FAA if any of the following conditions exist:

  • Your blood alcohol content was above 0.15
  • You are unable to provide necessary documentation within 14 days
  • You refused to submit to a blood-alcohol test
  • You had any other arrests, convictions or corrective actions against you within preceding two years
  • You've been arrested three or more times in your lifetime, or
  • You've had two arrests, convictions or corrective actions against you in the previous ten years.

If You Get Deferred

Don't panic: There's still hope that your aviation medical certificate will be approved.

If your medical certificate was deferred to the FAA, then you'll probably end up in paperwork up to your ears. Some of these deferments will be approved, and some will be denied.

For example, a DUI with a clinically diagnosed substance abuse problem is a disqualifying situation, unless you can provide evidence of recovery (total abstinence) for a minimum of two years. So, while a single DUI will hurt you, there's hope. Some people may end up waiting a year or two to get a medical certificate, but it's possible to get back in the game if you have, indeed, cleaned up your act.

If You Have More Than One DUI 

More than one DUI or DWI will cause problems with your application for an aviation medical certificate, as the FAA views this as more of a habitual problem, possibly having to do with addiction or persistent alcohol abuse.

You won't be issued an aviation medical from the examiner if you have more than one DUI or DWI; the case must be sent to the FAA for review. Unless you have documentation, rehab paperwork and have been clean and sober for at least a year, you will find it tough to convince the folks at the FAA that you are medically fit for flight. Even so, even after a denial, you can .

Reporting Arrests, Convictions, and Administrative Actions

You must report any DUIs or DWIs on the medical application form. In addition, pilots must within 60 days of the occurrence. Failure to report a DUI or DWI can result in the revocation of current medical certificates and/or pilot certificates by the FAA.