Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Drinking, Driving And Flying
Just the prospect of facing FAA paperwork should make one think twice about misusing alcohol
When you fill out FAA Form 8500-8 applying for a medical certificate, you're asked to sign the express-consent provision that authorizes the National Driver Register (NDR) to release information about your driving record to the FAA. Since all motor-vehicle actions in the country are supposed to be reported to the NDR, the FAA is confident that it will find out about anything in which you were involved. If you haven't reported an incident to them on your own in the way the FAA wants it reported, they'll try to nail you. Failure to authorize the NDR search at the time of your medical is at your own peril (or the peril of your flying future).
In the fall of 2009, Dr. Warren Silberman, who managed the FAA's Aerospace Medical Certification Division, notified medical examiners of a new policy. In the past, the FAA gave a "free pass" to an airman reporting a first DUI offense. Medical examiners were supposed to obtain the court documents and question the airman about alcohol or drug use, but were permitted to issue a medical certificate if the airman didn't have a substance-abuse problem. Under the new policy, medical examiners still have to obtain court documents and question the airman, but if the airman had a positive alcohol test or blood-alcohol level of 0.15 or greater, the local examiner can't issue a medical certificate. The application needs to be deferred to Oklahoma City for action. The medical examiner also is barred from issuing a medical certificate if the airman refused to allow police to run a blood test, even though such a refusal may be entirely within an individual's rights. Under the new policy, the FAA insists that the airman obtain a substance-abuse evaluation from a recognized counselor as a condition of further consideration for issuance of a medical certificate.
Are the FAA's hurdles high enough to trip up all pilots who are foolish enough to abuse alcohol or other drugs? Not quite, according to anecdotal evidence seen in NTSB investigations. Is the FAA's system totally effective at doing what it's designed to do? Again, not quite.
A Piper PA-28-180 crashed while maneuvering for landing at the Lebanon-Springfield Airport (6I2), Lebanon, Ky., on February 23, 2010, at about 12:20 a.m., after experiencing a loss of power due to fuel exhaustion. The accident site was about 1⁄2 mile from the airport. The commercial pilot, who was the only occupant, was fatally injured. The airplane was IFR. Investigators found no evidence that there was any usable fuel on board, and no evidence of problems with the airframe or engine.
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