The Career Advisor
About a month ago, I was arrested for driving under the influence (DUI). I'm a junior in college, and it was one of those goofy weekends with friends celebrating a sports victory. I had some beers but thought I was OK. The police officer pulled me over for speeding but suspected that I had been drinking. Well, you know the rest of the story. The obvious question: Am I toasted as far as an airline career is concerned?
--Berry from Kansas City
A: This is a tough situation. There are thousands of young aviators doing their training at colleges and academies across the landscape who face social temptations most weekends. At the risk of sounding parental, anyone considering a flying career should adopt the same personal limits for driving a Ford as flying a Cessna: no booze, period. The risks to personal survival and career success are way too great.
So much for the sermon. What are the ramifications? It depends. Companies have varying tolerance levels, and it will take some research and networking to ferret out an airline's policies.
A former vice president of flight standards and training for a legacy airline freely admitted that the company has hired pilots with one DUI on their records. The mitigating factors are several. First, when did the conviction take place? The company seems to have tolerance for the indiscretions of a young person. If an applicant had a one-time issue at age 19 but has had a clean record for the past 12 years, that individual will probably get a pass. Another consideration is how the applicant has distinguished himself since then. Did he have a stellar military record? Did that potential employee hold a responsible position as a pilot elsewhere? So, at least with this company, the second chance is a real possibility. However, if a 32-year-old applicant had a DUI in the past, say, five years, that person is a goner. The reason? An adult should know better.
A chief pilot at a second-tier jet carrier says, "Absolutely not! Not even one DUI on the record. Here is the problem. Imagine that there is an incident or an accident. When CNN, Fox News, and local Channel 6 get to digging, they are going to find out that the pilot had a history of drinking problems. It doesn't matter that it was only a one-time occurrence. The stigma that the airline hired a drunk is one that my particular airline could not tolerate on any level. There are just too many qualified applicants out there who have a clean record."
Another chief pilot at a regional airline was someplace in between the two extremes. He says, "We look at the situation on a case-by-case basis. In some instances, the applicant might have been arrested for a DUI or DWI but not convicted. Or, there might be some extenuating circumstances that we become aware of. In short, we all make mistakes. If we have an applicant who has had a blemish on the record, we will certainly factor in employment history, the nature of the legal sanction such as a fine or jail time--and, perhaps, personal knowledge of the applicant. Is this a good guy who has had a stellar reputation and background except for the one issue?"
There's another factor to consider: The FAA.
A good look at FAR 61.15 is in order. In part, the regulation states: "Each person holding a certificate issued under this part shall provide a written report of each motor vehicle action to the FAA Civil Aviation Security Division…later than 60 days after the motor vehicle action."
Second, when taking an FAA airman medical exam, the applicant gives the FAA permission to access the National Driver Registry. If the FAA discovers an issue that has not been reported, it will be a bad deal.
Send us your career question email@example.com and we'll answer the best ones here. Sorry, but we are not able to provide individual responses. Wayne Phillips is an airline transport pilot with Boeing 737 and Falcon 20 type ratings. He is a B-737 instructor and operates the Airline Training Orientation Program at the Continental Airlines Pilot Training Center. He is also a speaker for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation and flies around Michigan in his Cessna 182RG.