Can a Felon Be a Pilot?

In many cases, you can be a pilot with a felony on your record. The FAA does not deny pilot certificates solely on the basis of a felony conviction. If the felony is for a drug- or alcohol-related offense, the FAA requires you to wait up to one year before applying for a pilot certificate.1 You can enroll in flight training during this waiting period.

There are many complex factors that will determine whether someone with a criminal record can have a career as a commercial pilot. A background check and medical exam are also required for most pilot licenses, and the final decision will depend on the type of conviction and your actions following the incident.

Can a felon be a pilot? Let’s delve into the specifics that will answer this question.

How Can a Felon Get a Pilot’s License?

Professional pilot posing for the camera against a landed aircraft

The first step for any pilot is to obtain a Student Pilot Certificate, and this is the same if you have a felony on your record. You must meet the requirements, which include:

  • Obtaining a 3rd Class Medical Certificate from an aviation medical examiner
    • Substance abuse or dependence will prevent you from passing this exam. If your felony is drug- or alcohol-related, you may be required to wait or show evidence of recovery to receive a student pilot certificate.
  • Passing a TSA (Transportation Security Administration) background check to judge whether your record would make you a security risk in the air

What Types of Convictions Might Disqualify a Pilot?

driving under the influence DWI inscription on the screen.

Specific types of convictions might automatically disqualify you from receiving a student pilot license and being allowed to log solo flight hours. Some of these include:

  • Murder
  • Sedition
  • Espionage
  • Treason
  • Terrorism
  • Unlawful possession or use of explosive devices
  • Transportation security incidents

If you were convicted of one of these felonies in the last five years, you may also be disqualified as a security risk:

  • Unlawful possession or use of a firearm
  • Extortion, smuggling, robbery, arson, or bribery
  • Rape or aggravated sexual abuse
  • Kidnapping or hostage-taking
  • Assault with intent to kill or voluntary manslaughter
  • Distribution of, or intent to distribute, a controlled substance
  • RICO violations
  • Immigration violations
  • Fraud or misrepresentation related to one of these crimes
  • Conspiracy to commit one of these crimes

What Kind of Pilot License Can a Felon Receive?

Airplane pilot filling in logbook

If you are not disqualified by the TSA based on your conviction, and you can pass the required medical exams, which become more stringent as you move up in licensing, a felony may not prevent you from obtaining any of these standard Pilot Licenses under FAA regulations:2

  • Sport pilot able to fly light aircraft
  • Recreational pilot who can fly aircraft up to 180 hp with as many as four seats
  • Private pilot who can fly with passengers but may not charge for services
  • Commercial pilot who can be paid to fly cargo or passengers
  • Airline transport pilot who can fly scheduled airline flights with passengers or cargo

Can a Felon Be a Private Pilot?

A felon can become a private pilot by passing a 3rd Class Medical exam, the TSA background check, and meeting all the same FAA requirements as any other student pilot. A private pilot license requires a minimum number of flight hours, as well as written and practical tests. Once you have your private pilot license, you can fly with passengers as long as you are not being financially compensated.

Can a Felon Be a Commercial Pilot?

A felon can become a commercial pilot with the additional requirements of passing a 2nd Class Medical certificate exam. Once you have your private pilot license, you can continue on to meet the requirements of a commercial pilot license, with additional flight hours, night flights, and other requirements. A written exam and an FAA checkride will complete the process. With this license you can work as a pilot flying tours, banner towing, in agriculture, or for charter flights.

Can a Felon Be an Airline Pilot?

As we reach the level of the Airline Transport Pilot License, the waters become muddier for those with a past felony conviction. Not only will you need to pass a 1st Class Medical Certification Exam, but FAA regulations include a requirement for pilots receiving an ATP certificate to be “of good moral character.”

This introduces a gray area where decisions will be made on a case by case basis. If you pass this hurdle and receive an ATP certificate, you will still face hiring guidelines for major airlines, which might prevent you from being hired as an airline pilot with a felony on your record.

Is It Possible to Lose Your Pilot’s License for a Felony?

Young businessman handcuffed. He is sitting at a table with face between his palms showing guilt and frustration

What if you already have a valid pilot’s license and you are convicted of a felony? If you are convicted of a felony involving drugs or alcohol, your license will be suspended or revoked by the FAA. If you lose your driver’s license for a DUI or are arrested, you must notify the FAA. Even if you do not, they will find out when you need to renew your medical certification, and you may be subject to suspension for trying to conceal a felony conviction.

A suspended license can be reinstated when the suspension is over; but if your pilot license is revoked by the FAA, you will need to take the tests again to regain your license when you qualify to do so. A felony conviction is not the only reason a pilot can face suspension or revocation.

There are several reasons you might lose your pilot’s license:

  • Making a false statement in any of your flight records
  • Student or private pilots accepting payment to fly
  • Flying while under the influence of alcohol, at blood alcohol levels as low as .04
  • Having three DUI moving violations in three years
  • Flying on a suspended pilot’s license
  • Being convicted of a crime that results in TSA disqualification

Find Out if You Can Enroll in Flight School and Become a Pilot

Kingsky Flight Academy

Chances are you can become a pilot in some capacity even with a few bruises on your record. At Kingsky Flight Academy, we help every student realize their dreams of taking flight. We can help you through the process of obtaining a student pilot license and get you in the air faster than you might think possible.

We offer full coursework and in-flight instruction to help our students become private or commercial pilots, and we even have a full time program to obtain an Airline Transport Pilot license with jet simulator training. Our 60 years of flight training experience allow us to help almost every potential student become a pilot, and our passing rate for FAA exams is one of the highest in the business.

Private Pilot Training Course

Learn to fly a Cessna 150, a 172 Skyhawk, or a Piper PA-28 Cherokee. Fly yourself on business trips or take vacations with family and friends. The Private Pilot training from Kingsky fully prepares you to meet all FAA requirements for flight hours and pass the exams to be rated for single engine planes like these.

Instrument Rating Course

Lift some pilot license restrictions by taking an instrument rating course from Kingsky and learn to fly by instrument through clouds, at night, and in low visibility. These skills round out your abilities as a pilot and provide the base for more advanced flight training and licenses.

Commercial Pilot Training Course

Prepare for a career in the air by completing a commercial pilot course to reach a professional skill level. Become a professional pilot and fly charters, move cargo, tow a banner, or spray a field. Being paid to fly is one of the most satisfying career choices for our students. Master cockpit procedures and emergency situations before you take the final exam and checkride with all required flight hours securely under your belt.

Enroll in Flight School Today with Kingsky

You can learn to fly full time or part time with flexible flight training from Kingsky Flight Academy. We are dedicated to the success of all of our students and will work with you to resolve any obstacles that might stand in the way of you taking flight. Enroll today to get started!



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