Pilot Careers: Is There Life After a DUI?

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Image: Getty/Joe Raedle

Ask anyone in aviation and they'll tell you that if you want to become a pilot, you don't want to mess with the law, especially when it comes to drinking and driving.

If you find yourself pulled over because you made the bad decision to drink and drive, you might wonder what will happen to your aviation medical and pilot certificates. The answer, unfortunately, isn't very cut-and-dry. While a DUI can be a disqualifying medical problem for pilots, you shouldn't panic.

There is hope, but it'll take some time and energy on your part.

You might be tempted to not do anything out of fear or embarrassment, but failure to report a DUI to the FAA within 60 days can result in the suspension of your medical and pilot license. And if you fail to report it on your medical exam the next time you go in to renew it, you'll be in bigger trouble for falsifying records.

So can you fly after a DUI? Well, general aviation pilots with a single DUI and an otherwise clean record can almost certainly keep flying. The FAA tends to give first time offenders a 'free pass'. If you are a private pilot with a third class medical certificate, then you're probably safe, although there will be some paperwork (...lots of paperwork.) Commercial pilots and airline pilots, on the other hand, will have to answer to the companies they work for on top of the FAA, and there will likely be more serious repercussions there.

If you have a previous DUI and you're applying for your initial medical certificate, it's normal to be anxious about what to expect. If it's your only one, you will probably still pass the exam with a little explaining to the medical examiner. 

Multiple DUIs or a DUI with other arrests makes the process more complicated, and you should consult an aviation lawyer and speak to your medical examiner about the possible steps you should take.

The good news is that while you might be without a pilot certificate or medical for some time after reporting a DUI, the revocation is not necessarily permanent, and you can typically reapply after proving that you have a clean record for a period of time.