Can You Be A Pilot With A Criminal Record?

Becoming a pilot is a dream for many, but a criminal record can seem like a roadblock. If you have a criminal history and aspire to sit in the captain’s seat one day, you may be wondering if it’s possible to become a pilot.

The quick answer is yes, it is possible in many cases to become a licensed pilot despite having a criminal record. However, there are important factors to consider and steps to take to improve your chances.

In this approximately 3000 word guide, we will provide a comprehensive overview of requirements and procedures for obtaining a pilot license with a record, including strategies to strengthen your application.

FAA Requirements for Pilot Applicants with Criminal Records

If you have a criminal record and dream of becoming a pilot, you may be wondering if it is still possible to pursue your passion. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has strict requirements for pilot applicants, including those with criminal records.

While having a criminal record does not automatically disqualify you from becoming a pilot, it is essential to understand the FAA’s guidelines and procedures.

Medical Certificate

The first requirement for becoming a pilot, regardless of your criminal record, is obtaining a medical certificate. This certificate ensures that you are physically and mentally fit to operate an aircraft.

During the medical examination, the FAA will review your medical history, including any criminal convictions or substance abuse issues. It is crucial to be honest and transparent during this process, as providing false information can lead to disqualification.

If you have a criminal record, the FAA will evaluate the severity and nature of the offense. Certain crimes, such as drug-related offenses, can raise concerns about your ability to safely operate an aircraft.

However, the FAA takes a case-by-case approach and considers rehabilitation efforts, time since the offense, and any evidence of a changed lifestyle. It is essential to provide all necessary documentation and evidence to support your case.

Pilot Certificates and Ratings

Once you have obtained a medical certificate, the next step is to pursue pilot certificates and ratings. The FAA requires aspiring pilots to complete specific training and pass knowledge and practical exams to obtain these certifications.

Having a criminal record does not automatically disqualify you from obtaining pilot certificates and ratings; however, it may impact the timeline and process.

When applying for pilot certificates or ratings, you will need to disclose your criminal record on the application. The FAA will conduct a background check and evaluate your case. They will consider factors such as the severity of the offense, your conduct since the conviction, and any efforts towards rehabilitation.

It is crucial to provide all necessary documentation, including court records, character references, and evidence of your commitment to a law-abiding lifestyle.

It is important to note that the FAA has a responsibility to prioritize aviation safety. Therefore, certain offenses, such as DUI convictions, can raise significant concerns. However, each case is evaluated individually, and the FAA makes decisions based on a holistic assessment of the applicant’s qualifications, character, and rehabilitation efforts.

If you have a criminal record and aspire to become a pilot, it is advised to consult with an aviation attorney or seek guidance from the FAA directly. They can provide personalized advice and help you navigate the application process.

Becoming a pilot with a criminal record may present additional challenges, but it is not impossible. By understanding the FAA’s requirements, being transparent about your past, and demonstrating your commitment to safety and responsibility, you can still pursue your dream of flying.

Impact of Different Types of Crimes

Minor Crimes

When it comes to pursuing a career as a pilot with a criminal record, the type of crime committed plays a significant role in determining the impact on your chances. Minor crimes, such as traffic violations or minor offenses, may not have a severe impact on your eligibility to become a pilot.

These types of offenses are generally considered less serious and are unlikely to be a major hurdle in obtaining your pilot’s license.

Serious Crimes

On the other hand, serious crimes like assault, theft, or fraud can have a more substantial impact on your ability to become a pilot. Airlines and aviation authorities prioritize safety and security, and individuals with a history of serious criminal offenses may be seen as potential risks.

Background checks are often conducted, and a criminal record involving these types of crimes could lead to disqualification or make it extremely challenging to pursue a career as a pilot.

Drug Offenses

Drug offenses, including possession, sale, or distribution of illegal substances, are taken very seriously in the aviation industry. Airlines have a zero-tolerance policy towards drugs, and any involvement with drugs can result in a permanent ban from becoming a pilot.

This strict stance is primarily due to the potential risks associated with substance abuse and the safety concerns it poses for both the pilot and passengers.

Federal Aviation Crimes

Crimes directly related to aviation, such as operating an aircraft under the influence of alcohol or drugs, falsifying documents, or any violations of federal aviation regulations, have severe repercussions.

These offenses are considered extremely serious and can lead to criminal charges, hefty fines, and imprisonment. Convictions for federal aviation crimes can effectively end any hopes of becoming a pilot, as they demonstrate a disregard for the laws and regulations that govern aviation safety.

It’s important to note that while these are general guidelines, each case is evaluated on an individual basis. Airlines and aviation authorities will consider factors such as the severity of the offense, the timeframe since the crime was committed, and any evidence of rehabilitation or character development when determining eligibility.

For more information on this topic, you can visit the Federal Aviation Administration’s website at www.faa.gov.

Applying for a Pilot License with a Criminal History

Having a criminal record does not necessarily disqualify someone from becoming a pilot, but it does require additional steps in the application process. If you have a criminal history and aspire to become a pilot, here are some important factors to consider:

Disclose Convictions on Medical Application

When applying for a pilot license, it is essential to be honest and transparent about your criminal history. On the medical application, there is a section where you are required to disclose any convictions, including minor offenses.

Failing to disclose this information can have serious consequences and may result in your application being denied.

It is important to note that not all convictions will automatically disqualify you from obtaining a pilot license. Each case is evaluated on an individual basis, taking into account the nature of the offense, the time that has passed since the conviction, and any efforts made towards rehabilitation.

Provide Court Documentation

Along with the disclosure of your convictions, you will need to provide court documentation that supports your application. This may include copies of the charges, court records, and any evidence of completion of probation or community service.

These documents will help the authorities assess your case and determine your eligibility to become a pilot.

Submit Letters of Explanation

In addition to court documentation, it is highly recommended to submit letters of explanation. These letters should clearly outline the circumstances surrounding your convictions, express remorse for your actions, and demonstrate how you have changed since then.

Highlight any positive steps you have taken towards rehabilitation, such as completing counseling programs or volunteering in the community. These letters provide an opportunity to showcase your personal growth and convince authorities that you are a responsible and trustworthy individual.

Highlight Rehabilitation

When evaluating applications from individuals with criminal records, aviation authorities place great importance on rehabilitation efforts. Showcasing your commitment to personal growth and rehabilitation can significantly improve your chances of obtaining a pilot license.

It is important to emphasize any steps you have taken to improve yourself and your life since the convictions. This can include pursuing higher education, maintaining steady employment, or engaging in community service.

While the process of obtaining a pilot license with a criminal record may be more complex, it is not impossible. By being honest, providing necessary documentation, submitting letters of explanation, and highlighting your rehabilitation efforts, you can present a strong case to aviation authorities.

Remember, each case is evaluated individually, and the decision ultimately rests with the authorities, so it is crucial to present yourself in the best possible light.

Improving Your Chances

Having a criminal record can present challenges when pursuing a career as a pilot. However, there are steps you can take to improve your chances of becoming a pilot even with a criminal record.

Invest in Legal Counsel

One of the first steps you should take is to invest in legal counsel. A skilled attorney with experience in aviation law can guide you through the process and help you understand your options. They can review your criminal record, assess its impact on your pilot application, and provide you with advice on how to address any red flags.

Additionally, a good lawyer can help you navigate the complex regulations and requirements set by aviation authorities. They can assist you in presenting your case in the best possible light and increase your chances of success.

Consider Expungement

If your criminal record is eligible for expungement, it is worth considering this option. Expungement is a legal process that seals or erases criminal records, making them inaccessible to the public. This can be beneficial when applying for pilot positions, as potential employers may not have access to your past convictions.

However, it’s important to note that the expungement process varies depending on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances of your case. Consulting with a lawyer who specializes in expungement can help you determine if this is a viable option for you.

Volunteer and Build Your Resume

While working towards clearing your criminal record, it’s essential to focus on building a strong resume. Volunteering in aviation-related organizations or charities can demonstrate your commitment to the field and showcase your dedication to personal growth and rehabilitation.

Additionally, consider pursuing further education or certifications that can enhance your qualifications as a pilot. Taking additional courses, attending workshops, or obtaining relevant licenses can demonstrate your commitment to continuous learning and professional development.

Remember, the aviation industry values safety, responsibility, and integrity. By investing in legal counsel, considering expungement, and actively building your resume, you can improve your chances of becoming a pilot, even with a criminal record.

Career Options for Pilots with Criminal Records

Having a criminal record can present challenges and limitations when it comes to pursuing a career as a pilot. However, there are still some options available for individuals with a passion for aviation and a desire to fly.

Let’s explore a few career paths that may be open to pilots with criminal records.

Bush Pilot

One career option for pilots with criminal records is to become a bush pilot. Bush pilots are known for their ability to fly in remote and challenging environments, often providing transportation to remote areas, delivering supplies, or conducting aerial surveys.

While commercial airlines may have strict background check requirements, bush pilots often work for smaller companies or operate independently, which may provide more flexibility in terms of eligibility criteria.

As a bush pilot, you can expect to face unique challenges and adventures. Flying in rugged terrains and unpredictable weather conditions requires exceptional piloting skills and decision-making abilities.

If you have a criminal record but are still determined to pursue a career in aviation, becoming a bush pilot could be an exciting and fulfilling option for you.

Agricultural Pilot

Another career option that may be available for pilots with criminal records is to become an agricultural pilot. Agricultural pilots, also known as crop dusters, play a crucial role in the farming industry by applying fertilizers, pesticides, and other substances to crops from the air.

This requires precision flying and the ability to navigate low-altitude flight patterns.

Agricultural pilot positions are often available through private companies or agricultural cooperatives. Since these positions may not require the same level of background checks as commercial airlines, individuals with criminal records may have a better chance of finding employment in this field.

While it’s important to note that each employer may have their own set of hiring criteria, exploring opportunities in agricultural aviation can be a viable option for pilots with a criminal record.

Test Pilot

Test pilots are responsible for evaluating the performance and safety of aircraft during the development and certification process. They conduct flight tests to assess the aircraft’s handling, stability, and other important factors.

While becoming a test pilot requires extensive training and experience, it can be a rewarding career choice for pilots with a criminal record.

Test pilots often work for aerospace manufacturers or government agencies, and the hiring criteria may vary depending on the organization. While some positions may have strict background check requirements, others may be more lenient, especially if the focus is on the pilot’s flying skills and qualifications.

If you have a criminal record but have the necessary qualifications and experience, pursuing a career as a test pilot may be a possibility worth exploring.

It’s important to note that the availability of these career options may vary depending on the nature and severity of the criminal record. Each employer may have their own hiring criteria and considerations.

Therefore, it’s advisable to research and reach out to aviation companies directly to inquire about their policies and opportunities for pilots with criminal records.


While having a criminal history presents challenges for aspiring pilots, the door is not closed. Taking proactive steps like expungement and collecting letters of recommendation can help demonstrate you have turned over a new leaf.

With an optimized application highlighting rehabilitation, it is possible for many with past convictions to successfully earn pilot certifications and pursue careers in aviation.

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