Overview of FAA Drug & Alcohol Offense Reporting Requirements for Pilots
Pilot Drug & Alcohol Offenses
What must be disclosed to the FAA?
By Joshua L. Fenton, Esq.
Mahatma Gandhi once said that a “confession of errors is like a broom which sweeps away the dirt and leaves the surface brighter and clearer." This is sage advice for anyone, but the decision to be forthcoming is especially important for pilots.
Most pilots are aware that they are required to report certain drug and alcohol related “offenses" to the FAA, yet it is very common for pilots to fail to do so. Failing to make required disclosures to the FAA is a serious offense that can have devastating consequences. Far too many pilots have had their certificates suspended or revoked because they failed to report minor events that, had they been disclosed, would almost certainly not have caused any negative repercussions.
There are actually two distinct types of reports that pilots’ may have to make: “Automatic" 60 days reports, and disclosures on airman medical applications.
“Automatic and Mandatory" Reporting Requirements:
All FAA certificate holders must provide a written report to the FAA within 60 days of being CONVICTED for operating a motor vehicle, or having their motor vehicle license CANCELLED, SUSPENDED, or REVOKED, or having their application for a license to operate a motor vehicle DENIED for a cause related to the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated by, impaired by, or under the influence of alcohol or a drug.
This requirement is “automatic" because it applies to ALL certificate holders, even those who are not actively using the privileges of their certificate. Even a private pilot who hasn’t been current for 20 years is still required by this regulation to report any motor vehicle action to the FAA within 60 days of the triggering event.
“Non-Automatic" Reporting Requirements:
In addition to the automatically-required report described above, additional disclosures are required when, but only when, a pilot applies for an airman medical. Question 18 on the current airman medical application form (See FAA Form 8500-9) is a multi-part question that requires an affirmative response to a number of drug & alcohol related issues. Pilots should be especially careful when answering question 18(v), which inquires about a “History of (1) any arrest(s)and/orconviction(s) involving driving while intoxicated by, impaired by, or under the influence of alcohol...or (2), a history of any arrest(s), and/or conviction(s), and/or administrative action(s) involving offense(s) that resulted in the denial, suspension, cancellation, or revocation of driving privileges, or which resulted in in attendance at an educational or rehabilitation program.
If a pilot is not careful when completing their application for a medical, they may incorrectly conclude that they can answer “NO" to question 18(v) because they were not convicted of a DUI or other alcohol-related offense for which they were charged. If, for example, a pilot is arrested for DUI and later acquitted, that pilot may not be required to file the 60 report required by §61.15, but they WOULD be required to answer “YES" to question 18(v) on their medical application, because question 18(v) expands the list of reportable events to include arrest(s) and administrative actions.
If this happens, and if the FAA finds out about it, it is quite possible that the airman will be charged with intentional falsification and receive an Emergency Order of Revocation of their airman, flight instructor, and medical certificate(s). This would obviously be a costly mistake that could easily destroy the career of a professional pilot.
Interestingly, pilots can get 30% of the questions wrong on any FAA knowledge test and still pass, but answering question 18(v) improperly could easily result in the revocation of all the certificates that pilot holds.
Avoiding issues involving drugs and alcohol is obviously the preferred route to take, but the fact of the matter is that mistakes happen. If you find yourself in a situation where you are unsure whether you are required to make a report to the FAA, it would be money well spent to call an aviation attorney to get guidance and avoid the pitfalls associated with failing to make a required disclosure.