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A 35-year-old student pilot was arrested for DUI after landing an airplane on Interstate 70 near Kansas City, Missouri. Could this happen in Pennsylvania? Is it really illegal to fly under the influence?

shadow image of a plane flying during sunset
Flying under the influence is a state and federal offense in Pennsylvania

Can a person be charged with DUI in Pennsylvania for flying an airplane while drunk?

In Pennsylvania, the DUI statute is 75 Pa. C.S. § 3802. Under that particular law, a person can only be charged with DUI if they’re operating a vehicle on a highway or trafficway. Technically, the air isn’t considered to be a highway or trafficway. But, there’s a separate law for flying while under the influence. Under 74 Pa. C.S. § 6502, anyone on a flight crew is prohibited from drinking alcohol within eight hours of flying a plane. The law also presumes that you’re unsafe to fly if your blood alcohol content within two hours of flying is .02.  Essentially, the laws for operating an airplane are more strict than laws for operating a car on the road.* Federal laws also prohibit pilots from consuming alcohol within eight hours of operating a plane.

One other thing…

In the case of the student pilot, he landed the airplane on a highway. Since an airplane is considered to be a vehicle under Pennsylvania’s traffic code, that would be enough for a DA to charge the pilot with a regular DUI.

*Unless you’re driving a commercial vehicle or school bus. Pennsylvania has a zero-tolerance law for operating commercial vehicles or school buses with alcohol in your system.