Disclosing Drug & Alcohol Offenses
Dr. Susan Northrup, FAA Federal Air Surgeon
Most of you know that there are specific limits regarding alcohol consumption when you plan to fly. You must abstain from alcohol for at least 8 hours prior (12 hours in the military) and your blood alcohol level must be less than 0.04% (grams/deciliter) per Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), section 91.17. The use of alcohol and other drugs (legal or illicit) proximate to flight is simply not safe. Studies have shown that there is an increased mishap rate among pilots who have had a DUI or DWI (driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated). In addition, a significant number of pilots involved in fatal accidents have had alcohol or other impairing drugs found in their system at autopsy.
The FAA is very concerned about this safety risk, and, as such, FAA regulations put an emphasis on the importance of flying unimpaired. You should also know that pilots are required to report alcohol or drug-related incidents to the FAA. Pilots who maintain an FAA medical certificate and operate under part 121 or 135 face additional requirements including random drug and alcohol testing. Pilots are subject to the reporting requirements of 14 CFR section 61.15. You must provide a written report to the FAA Civil Aviation Security Division within 60 days of any action regarding your driver’s license. This includes suspensions, convictions, etc. Please note that this is required even if charges are subsequently dismissed. Also note that multiple reports might be required for the same offense, for instance, if a suspension is followed by a later conviction. This regulatory requirement reflects how the law was written.
Pilots who maintain FAA medical certification have additional reporting requirements under items 18 and 20 of the medical certificate application (FAA Form 8500-8). This is separate from the reporting due under section 61.15 and neither disclosure satisfies the reporting requirement for the other. Also, applicants for a medical certificate or those choosing the BasicMed pathway grant consent for a review of the National Driver’s Registry (NDR) as part of the application process.
There are also considerations for those who fly ultralights (part 103) and drones (part 107). The use of alcohol or other drugs is limited in section 103.9 and sections 107.23, 107.27, and 107.57, respectively in addition to section 91.17. While there is no specific reporting requirement under part 103 or 107, a pilot who holds a certificate issued under part 61 must still meet the reporting requirements of paragraph 15 even if they no longer exercise that certificate.
Clearly, the take-home message is don’t drink and fly, or drive for that matter. Some that do are repeat offenders before they are caught by law enforcement. If you are going out and plan to drink, also plan to have a designated driver, take a cab, or spend the night at a hotel or with a friend. Some of you already follow this guidance. Hopefully, more of you will. However, some will test the system and get caught. You risk being involved in an accident or losing your pilot certificates with a mandatory grounding period before retesting is permitted.
Let’s assume that the FAA’s legal team has determined enforcement action is unnecessary after reporting. There are still considerations for pilots who hold an FAA medical certificate. Both substance abuse and dependence are specifically disqualifying conditions listed in 14 CFR part 67. While a single event (DUI/DWI) can be relatively straightforward if an underlying dependence is absent, many times it will still require clearance from the FAA. For multiple events and/or cases where dependence is demonstrated, the pilot should anticipate that they will not be flying until the FAA is satisfied that the individual is in good recovery. Even then, years of monitoring is the rule.
Don’t drink and drive or fly. But if you do, prompt and full reporting is the best path forward.
Dr. Susan Northrup received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, a medical degree from The Ohio State University, and a master’s degree in public health from the University of Texas. She is double board-certified by the American Board of Preventive Medicine in Aerospace Medicine and Occupational Medicine. She is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and a former regional medical director for Delta Air Lines. She is also an active private pilot.
Reprinted with permission from FAA Safety Briefing. Visit the Flight Safety Briefing website: https://www.faa.gov/news/safety_briefing/