Operating, flying, or piloting an aircraft under the influence of alcohol or drugs is not only an illegal activity, but is also a very dangerous one. Being a pilot is a great responsibility, as pilots are primarily responsible for the lives of their passengers and members of their crew. In certain situations, they are also liable for other aircraft as well as for other people on the ground.
In Minnesota, flying within eight hours of any form of alcohol consumption is classified as a misdemeanor. Flying an aircraft with an alcohol level of .04 percent or more, on the other hand, is classified as a gross misdemeanor. The same prohibitions are applied to flight attendants and any other crewmembers that are on duty aboard the aircraft.
Alcohol, a depressant, slows down the body’s central nervous system. A person’s brain function slows and his or her physical performance abilities are reduced. Alcohol can potentially impair an individual’s sense of judgment, balance, vision, and coordination. These abilities are crucial when piloting an aircraft, and the impairment of such can greatly increase the probability of an accident occurring.
Operating an aircraft is a demanding task and requires perfect vision, and numerous special abilities and knowledge. Pilots under the influence of alcohol or drugs experience difficulty with focusing, assessing situations, processing information, and making sound decisions—all of which are crucial when it comes to flying.
Many of the laws that apply to driving while impaired also apply to operating an aircraft under the influence. Apart from federal and state laws on flying and alcohol consumption, pilots must also adhere to Federal Aviation Administration regulations. All pilots are aware of the laws that concern flying an aircraft under the influence, and all are subject to severe penalties for offenses.
Common penalties for operating an aircraft while impaired include fines, jail time, attendance and completion of alcohol education programs, flying safety classes, and license revocation or suspension of flying privileges.
The penalties are dependent on the circumstances of the offense, the offender’s record, and the state where the incident takes place. The severity of the fines and other penalties are also dependent on the pilot’s blood alcohol content level, whether or not there were injuries sustained by other people, and if there was property damage.
If law enforcement officials ask a pilot to take a drug or alcohol test, the implied consent law dictates that the pilot must submit to the test. Refusal to take the test automatically results in his or her license being suspended or his or her flying privileges being revoked for a specific period of time.
Pilots are also required to report to the FAA any previous DWI convictions, as well as any penalties that have been imposed on them due to the DWI conviction. If a pilot does not report a previous conviction, then he or she may face a fine amounting to $250,000, jail time of five years, or both.
However, a pilot’s license will not automatically be suspended if he or she reports a prior DWI conviction. The FAA, though, may require the pilot to undergo psychiatric or substance abuse evaluations upon learning of a DWI conviction, and may also require the pilot to take random drug and alcohol tests or attend substance abuse treatment programs.