Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Drinking, Driving And Flying

Just the prospect of facing FAA paperwork should make one think twice about misusing alcohol

A review of law enforcement and FAA records revealed that the pilot had been arrested for driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence at least twice. He had reported one of the incidents to the FAA. The pilot's application for a first-class airman medical certificate on December 19, 2006, noted a DUI arrest with suspension in May 2006. His most recent application for a first-class airman medical certificate on June 6, 2008, noted only "previously reported, no change" regarding his history of alcohol-related convictions. Both applications noted "no" to "alcohol dependence or abuse." There was no indication that the FAA requested or received any additional information regarding the pilot's DUI history.

A search following the accident by the FAA Security and Investigations Division turned up records on the pilot of a conviction for "Driving While Intoxicated" in Indiana on August 30, 2006, and in Kentucky on February 28, 2007. A copy of the arrest report from the 2006 conviction was obtained by the NTSB and noted, in part, that a "truck driver attempted to pass the [pilot's] vehicle when the [pilot's] vehicle crossed into the left lane, sideswiping the truck's trailer, causing both vehicles to pull over onto the emergency lane...arrived just as the [pilot's] vehicle was stopping. ...[the pilot] exited the vehicle and staggered towards me. ...inside the...[pilot's] vehicle was two empty [liquor] bottles...wasn't wearing any shoes but had socks on...attitude towards the accident was that it wasn't no big deal. ...given a portable breath test which revealed a 0.20% BAC [blood alcohol]..."

The FAA Security and Investigations Division told investigators that an error resulted in the pilot's September 28, 2000, medical certificate application being given an incorrect code, which resulted in no cross-checking with the NDR for motor vehicle actions. The Security and Investigations Division also stated, "[The pilot] reported, per 14 CFR 61.15(e), his 2006 alcohol related MVA [motor vehicle action], in the State of Indiana, and properly disclosed such on his 2006 Application for Airman Medical Certificate. [The pilot] failed to notify this office, per 14 CFR 61.15(e), of his 2007 alcohol related conviction in the State of Kentucky. He also falsified his Application for Airman Medical Certificate, dated June 6, 2008, by failing to disclose this MVA."

The NTSB noted that FAA processes didn't independently identify at least two prior convictions of the pilot for DUI, though he had informed the FAA of one of the events, and the FAA had not requested details of the offense the pilot reported. The Safety Board concluded that given the level of tolerance exhibited by driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.20%, and having multiple convictions, it's almost certain that the pilot was substance dependent. The NTSB said had the FAA requested the appropriate information, it would have known that the pilot was likely substance dependent, a condition that's disqualifying for a medical certificate.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was the pilot's inadequate preflight planning, which resulted in a total loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion, and the pilot's impairment due to alcohol. Contributing to the accident was the FAA's failure to adequately oversee the pilot's medical certification.

Peter Katz is editor and publisher of NTSB Reporter, an independent monthly update on news concerning the National Transportation Safety Board. To subscribe, write to: NTSB Reporter, Subscription Dept., P.O. Box 831, White Plains, N.Y. 10602-0831.


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