Pilots And DUI / OVI In Ohio: Avoiding A Crash Landing

After years of working as a first officer for a commercial airline, Andrea is finally about to become a captain. To celebrate, she goes to dinner with friends and has a couple drinks. On the way home, she forgets to signal a right turn, and an officer stops her. The officer smells alcohol and has Andrea perform field sobriety tests. The officer says he notices ‘clues’ on the tests and arrests Andrea for DUI (called OVI in Ohio). As the cuffs go on, all she can think about is what will happen to her pilot’s license and her career.

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Legal Turbulence For The Pilot And Her Attorney
It seems logical that a pilot’s license would only be jeopardized if the pilot is convicted of OVI. What makes sense logically is not always what occurs with the federal government. And it is the federal government, specifically the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has responsibility for pilot (“airman”) licenses. The FAA will, in fact, impose sanctions for an OVI conviction. But there are other infractions, not obvious to attorneys, for which pilots could crash and burn.

Pilots Must Self-Report To The FAA
According to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), pilots must affirmatively report all ‘motor vehicle actions’ to the FAA. As defined by the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR), a ‘motor vehicle action’ includes:

• a conviction for DUI / OVI
• a license suspension / cancellation / revocation related to DUI / OVI
• a denial of an application for a driver license related to DUI / OVI

Based on the definition of ‘motor vehicle action’, most pilots charged with OVI in Ohio cannot wait until a conviction to report to the FAA. If the pilot refuses a chemical test for alcohol/drugs or submits and tests ‘over the limit’, the pilot will be subjected to an Administrative License Suspension (ALS). As that suspension is related to DUI / OVI, it is a ‘motor vehicle action’ and must be reported to the FAA.  According to FAR 61.15, there are time limits for reporting and also a requirement of reporting each separate ‘motor vehicle action’.  Failure to report a motor vehicle action accurately and timely will result in sanctions.

Pilots Must Also Report In A Separate Context
A pilot must have a current medical certificate. Depending on the type of certificate the pilot holds, the certificate must be renewed every six months, every year, or every two years. To obtain or renew a medical certificate, the pilot must complete an ‘Airman Medical Application.

There are questions on the medical application related to DUI / OVI. A pilot is asked about and required to report convictions or arrests or administrative actions:

• involving DUI / OVI
• involving an offense which resulted in denial / cancellation / revocation / suspension of driving privileges
• resulting in attendance at an educational or rehabilitation program

The FAA will know about events which trigger reporting requirements. When a pilot signs the medical application, the pilot authorizes the FAA to obtain the pilot’s driving record from the National Driver Register. Falsifying a medical application will lead to sanctions.

The pilot will also likely have reporting requirements and potential discipline with her employer. Accordingly, the pilot should consult employment contracts, employee handbooks, and collective bargaining agreements to address the employer issues.

And Then There’s The Court Case
While this article addresses the FAA requirements, the pilot also must defend against the OVI charges in court. For a pilot charged with DUI / OVI in Ohio, navigating the court system and the federal regulations can be tricky maneuvers. To avoid a crash landing, the pilot needs to effectively defend against the DUI/OVI and fully comply with FAA requirements. The pilot should hire a lawyer with expertise in Ohio DUI / OVI defense and a grasp of the special requirements for an ‘airman’ facing DUI / OVI accusations.