Flying While Intoxicated Is an Offense Under New Jersey and Federal Law

Operating any kind of powered vehicles, such as a car, truck, boat, or airplane, can be dangerous to yourself and others around you. You need a license to drive a motor vehicle on public roads in New Jersey. Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a motor vehicle offense under New Jersey law that can result in license suspension, fines, and possible jail time. Aircraft can be even more dangerous than cars or trucks, so the requirements for becoming a pilot are far stricter than most types of driver’s licenses. The penalties for operating an aircraft while under the influence of drugs or alcohol — also known as flying while intoxicated (FWI) — can result in penalties under both state and federal law.

Who Is Legally Allowed to Fly a Plane?

Each state handles driver’s licenses for its residents. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) deals with pilot licensing, known as certification, for the entire country. The type of certification depends on factors like the size of the aircraft and the number of passengers. Everyone starts with a student license. From there, the options include:
– Recreational pilots: Limited to small aircraft, short distances, and a small number of passengers;
– Private pilots: Can fly small aircraft with passengers for business purposes; and
– Commercial pilots: Can operate large commercial jets.

What Is Flying While Intoxicated?

Both state and federal law prohibit FWI. New Jersey defines the offense as operating an aircraft “while under the influence of or using intoxicating liquors, cocaine or other habit-forming drugs.” Unlike the DWI statute, it does not specify a blood alcohol content (BAC) amount at which a pilot is presumed to be impaired. Federal law handles that aspect of the offense.

Under FAA regulations, a person commits FWI if they fly under any of the following circumstances:
– Within 8 hours of consuming alcohol;
– While under the influence of alcohol;
– With BAC of at least 0.04 percent; or
– While using any drug that could impair their faculties.

Who Enforces Flying While Intoxicated Laws?

State law enforcement is usually the first to respond to alleged FWI. The FAA handles licensing and enforcement, but it does not have law enforcement powers like the authority to arrest someone. The police will handle that, and the FAA may impose additional civil penalties. FAA regulations impose an “implied consent” requirement for breath or blood testing if a law enforcement officer suspects FWI.

What Are the Penalties for Flying While Intoxicated?

New Jersey law classifies FWI as a misdemeanor offense, which can be subject to the same legal standards as a crime of the fourth degree. The penalties for a conviction may include up to 18 months imprisonment, which is three times greater than the maximum sentence for a DWI conviction.

Anyone with a flight certification must notify the FAA if they are convicted of DWI or FWI. The FAA may suspend or revoke their certification, and they may refuse to issue a new certification for up to one year after a conviction.

New Jersey law views DWI as a serious offense. FWI is arguably even more serious. An arrest or conviction can have a major impact on your life and your future. A knowledgeable and skilled DWI attorney can help you understand your options and can advocate for your rights both in and out of the courtroom. Evan Levow has dedicated his entire law practice to DWI defense. Please contact us online or at (877) 593-1717 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team.

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