The United States' Federal Airline Regulations do not prohibit
licensing for a felony conviction at the private and commercial
levels, with the exception of drug and alcohol-related convictions.
Aviation Attorney George Moore discussed this issue in Plane & Pilot
Magazine's online edition of February 2001:
"If the person had any licenses prior to conviction, the conviction
may have a long-term impact on getting his or her licenses back or
retaining those licenses. The effect of the conviction depends on what
the conviction was for (drug-and alcohol-related convictions are
particularly significant) and on the severity of the crime. An
analysis of these factors is done by the FAA's Office of Security.
Take a look at FAR 61.14-16.
In a strange way, starting out after release without any prior flying
experience may be easier. There are no prohibitions for a felony
conviction (other than drug-and alcohol-related) at the private and
commercial levels. At the ATP level, FAR 61.153 (c) requires that an
applicant be of "good moral character." This requirement gives the FAA
a lot of room for denial, but it shouldn't prohibit people who have a
clean record after serving their sentence from getting a license.
How does the FAA know about convictions? First, both felony and
misdemeanor convictions must be reported on the Application for
Medical Certification, FAA Form 8500-8 (see blocks "v" and "w"). The
FAA can also check the same registries available to police agencies
and find out about convictions regardless of what's on the 8500-8. The
point is that applicants must be completely candid with the FAA and
with any prospective employers about their record. Dishonesty in
making the application to the FAA can result in a license denial, even
if the conviction that wasn't reported wouldn't have barred the
The second issue is whether, having obtained a pilot's license, a
convicted felon can get a flying job. Assuming there has been complete
disclosure, this will probably be more difficult than for a person
without a record. It would seem to vary greatly from person to person,
depending on their educational background, how they present themselves
and what the conviction history was about. To get good commercial jobs
would likely require significant recommendations from people in the
flying business, and that probably implies the need for a
longer-than-normal tour in the instructor or charter ranks in order to
build a resume. Keep in mind that there's a wide range of commercial
jobs and, therefore, a number of ways that employers may look at a
felony background. Before putting out any considerable cash outlay for
training, however, it would seem advisable to contact one of the
better training schools and discuss these issues with a job placement
Plane and Pilot Magazine: Ask P&P
The Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) applicable to this question may
be found here:
Aviation Safety Data - Part 61, Certification: Pilots, Flight
Instructors, and Ground Instructors
Here you will find a facsimile of the Application for Medical
Certification, FAA Form 8500-8:
Near the bottom of the form, in sections 'v' and 'w', the applicant is
required to give a "yes" or "no" answer to questions regarding the
applicant's history of both felony and misdemeanor convictions.
According to Section 61-59 of the Federal Airline Regulations,
dishonesty in completing this application can result in denial or
revocation of a license. In view of this, and considering that the
federal government has many resources for investigating one's
background, it would not be prudent to try to conceal any details
about a felony conviction.
Google search strategy: "pilot's license" + "felon"
Google search strategy: "FAR 61"
If you need clarification of the materials I have presented in my
answer, please do not hesitate to ask.