Pilot Counsel:

Who are the 'bad' guys?

June 1, 2012


John Yodice The number of FAA enforcement cases that come across my desk remind me that Section 61.15(e) of the Federal Aviation Regulations continues to generate an unusually large number of enforcement actions against pilots. This is the regulation that requires pilots to report certain automobile driving infractions to the FAA. In virtually all of these cases, the pilots didn’t know or remember this obscure regulation. Pilots don’t associate driving infractions with their flying activities—and why should they? In fairness to the pilot community, the connection is pretty tenuous. Still, many pilots are losing their pilot certificates, and usually not because they have driving infractions, but because they haven’t reported them to the FAA as required by the regulation.

In its simplest form, FAR 61.15(e) requires that a pilot report to the FAA any so-called “motor vehicle action” within 60 days of the action.

In addition to the tenuous connection, several other things make the regulation difficult for pilots: One is the very broad definition of what constitutes a “motor vehicle action”; another is the fact that the report must be made to FAA’s Security Division (not a familiar FAA entity to general aviation pilots); a third, and very important, is the easy confusion of this requirement with the information required on an FAA medical application form.

As defined in the rule, a “motor vehicle action” can fall into one of two categories: convictions and driver’s license actions. Any state or federal court conviction related to the operation of a motor vehicle while “intoxicated by” or “impaired by” or “while under the influence of” alcohol or a drug is a motor vehicle action. In the other category, a motor vehicle action also includes any cancellation, suspension (however short or technical or forgettable), revocation, or denial of a driver’s license for any alcohol- or drug-related motor vehicle offense.

The report must be made no later than 60 days after the motor vehicle action. Reporting on an FAA medical application form does not satisfy the requirement, even if the report is made within the 60 days. Several years ago a pilot disclosed a motor vehicle action on his FAA medical application within the 60 days allowed. He was unaware of FAR 61.15(e). Reporting to the FAA is reporting to the FAA, right? Wrong! The report must be made to the FAA security people, not the medical people. The FAA cut him no slack. He was found in violation of the regulation.

The report must be in writing. But, contrary to the many other FAA reporting requirements, there is no official form. Where the report must be sent and what it must contain is in the regulation itself and in a suggested letter on the FAA website. The report must be sent to FAA, Security and Investigations Division (AMC-700), P.O. Box 25810, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73125, or faxed to 405-954-4989. The report must include the pilot’s name, address, date of birth, and airman certificate number. It must contain the type of violation, the date of the conviction or administrative action, and the state that holds the record.

A pilot must report each action to the FAA regardless of whether it arises out of the same incident or circumstances previously reported (as it many times does). But if the same incident, or the same factual circumstances, leads to any combination of convictions and driver’s license actions, it will count only once toward the two that will lead to certificate action. So, be sure to mention whether the motor vehicle action resulted from the same incident or arose out of the same factual circumstances related to a previously reported motor vehicle action. For example, if you reported a temporary license suspension resulting from a traffic stop, and you were later convicted for the same offense, both must be reported but should only be counted once.

Under FAR 61.15(d) a pilot’s certificate may (and likely will) be suspended or revoked if the pilot has two or more alcohol- or drug-related motor vehicle actions within a three-year period.

The effects of a report, or a failure to report, are serious. If a pilot does report a motor vehicle action, it will automatically trigger a review of the pilot’s file to determine if the pilot continues to be eligible for his or her airman certificate (two or more in a three-year period and you are out) or medical certificate (a history of alcoholism). If a pilot fails to report even one conviction or administrative action, that is grounds for suspension or revocation of any certificate or rating he or she holds. It is also grounds for denial of an application for a certificate or rating for up to one year after the date of the motor vehicle action. It is interesting (and disturbing) that a lot more pilots lose their pilot certificates under FAR 61.15(f) for failure to report (unknowingly), than for having two or more motor vehicle actions.

Legal counselor John S. Yodice is a commercial pilot and flight instructor who owns and flies a Cessna 310.

John S. Yodice