While every airline hopeful fears an imperfection or two in his background will hinder his career prospects, perhaps no skeleton in the closet causes more widespread concern than an alcohol-related event. After all, booze-induced pilot antics tend to capture the attention of a global audience – and never in a favorable way. Besides worldwide embarrassment, combining intoxicants with moving vehicles puts lives in danger, which is never going to improve an offender’s reputation.
Spotlights On and Microscopes Out
If the taboo surrounding liquor-based mistakes isn’t bad enough, the near 100% probability that the FAA and the airlines will know about any such offenses doesn’t leave a guilty pilot much hope that the event will slip by unnoticed. Additionally, whereas a failed checkride here or there can be overcome with time and a history of otherwise stellar performances, alcohol violations are significantly harder to shake. Should a pilot find himself with an under-the-influence moving violation, does said offender have any prayer of nailing down an airline job?
Can it be Done?
To be honest, I had some serious doubt that an alcohol-related offense could/would be forgiven by airline recruiters. However, while researching the subject I came across numerous instances where liquor-tainted pilots went on to secure jobs with the major carriers. In a few cases, the aviators in question apparently had more than one booze-related infraction. While a difficult task, professional pilot hopefuls do still have a shot at achieving the careers they desire, though they’ll need to take significant precautions to surmount such a formidable obstacle.
Snowballing out of Control
Besides the safety and reputation risks, why are alcohol-related slip-ups considered the blackest of black marks? One of the major factors is the ease of traceability. Take a look at 14 CFR 61.15, 61.16, and 91.17. For additional clarification, check out the FAA’s responses to alcohol-related questions. Pay particular attention to the next to last question. Every time you fill out an application for a medical certificate, you give the National Driver Register (NDR) full consent to share everything it has on you with the FAA. Even if you don’t comply with the above-referenced reporting regulations, the feds are bound to eventually learn about the event(s) anyway.
Is there any way the feds won’t learn of your transgression(s)? Perhaps, provided you never apply for a medical certificate. However, lack of a medical will guarantee you never work as a professional pilot. Additionally, check out FAA form 8710-1, particularly Part I, blocks U and V. If alcohol isn’t the vice in question, you still have to report illicit substance convictions every time you apply for a new certificate, rating or operating privilege. Try avoiding these reporting requirements and your troubles will only further spiral out of control.
A Double-Edged Sword
Going back to the regulations listed above; did you notice a common trend between them? Basically, possible consequences of non-compliance are: 1. Denial of an application for a certificate, rating or operating privilege for up to one year following the latest motor vehicle infraction. 2. Suspension or revocation of any certificate, rating or operating privilege issued under this part. Yep, attempt to fly under the radar and it’s possible you won’t be serving as a pilot in any capacity. Definitely not the way to establish a flying career.
Additionally, consider the harm related to not reporting your offenses. Rather than just having the alcohol-related issue(s) to contend with, you’ll now have to try to explain your way out of the regulatory violations and associated FAA certificate actions. On top of that, you will have established yourself as personally unaccountable and untrustworthy, which will definitely not bode well for your career chances. Instead, the only thing you can do if you hope to salvage your flying career is to own your mistake(s) and demonstrate full acceptance and compliance with the consequences.
To atone for your sins, you’ll need to be as proactive as possible by accepting responsibility for the wrongdoing. Comply with all required reporting regulations ASAP. Get copies of all documents associated with the event(s). Maintain meticulous records to demonstrate you’ve gone above and beyond to comply with all repercussions. That way, when the issue comes up at interviews (and it will come up), you can direct the interviewers to the facts surrounding the events. Doing so is much better than offering up some lame excuses of how you’re somehow the victim.
Go the Extra Step
Even if it’s not required by law, take additional actions to show you’ve learned from your mistakes and that future offenses will not happen. Participate in AA and get a sponsor who can vouch for your improvement. Undertake a self-imposed 200 hours of community service as punishment for your actions. Stand at a busy intersection all day holding a sign that says I drove while under the influence. If you can document that you went to such lengths, you stand a much better chance of convincing the interviewers (plus the FAA and state/local authorities) that your offense was a one-time event.
Advice from the Stones
Mick Jagger said it best: Time is on my side. The same applies to you. With a booze-related incident, time is one of your best friends. An event that occurred a dozen years ago packs much less of a punch than one that happened last summer – provided you’ve had no subsequent infractions. Believe it or not, even the conservative lot that manages the nation’s airlines knows what it was like to be young and foolish. With that said, a violation from your college days isn’t necessarily the death knell or your pilot career – as long as you’re forthcoming with the info and have complied with all reporting requirements. Follow the advice above and it’s possible the recruiters won’t dwell on this single instance.
If you’ve had multiple offenses, especially if they’re recent, you’ve most likely done yourself in. Regardless of how qualified you might otherwise be, no airline is going to risk hiring someone who’s an accident waiting to happen. A single occurrence might be a fluke, but two or more times usually signals a pattern. It doesn’t matter how sorry you are or how much you want an airline career, nothing is worth the risk of endangering the lives of others. No airline will want to touch you – period.
A Moot Point
The most important step you can take regarding alcohol-related offenses is to avoid the possibility altogether. Drink in moderation. If you’ve had any alcohol, call a cab or use a designated driver. Such actions are much easier than dealing with the fallout of a traffic stop/DUI charge. Drinking might be fun for a night, but the aftermath could be a nightmare for a lifetime.
If you’ve had alcohol-related issues in the past, I strongly advise you to speak to a DUI/aviation attorney. Learn the full extent of your options. Secure the services of an aviation career consultant or interview coach to learn how (or if) you can overcome your prior mistake(s). If you truly desire an airline pilot career, you owe it to yourself to explore all available options.