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The Eight Hour Rule -- Not So Fast

I can still remember the day as clearly as when I was there. I was sitting with my instructor, a gentleman named Don, just after finishing my first night cross-country...I can still remember the day as clearly as when I was there. I was sitting with my instructor, a gentleman named Don, just after finishing my first night cross-country. It was my intent to get signed off for night flight, and the first leg had gone off without a hitch.

This was around three whole days after I had achieved the status of a Private Pilot. Don had worked with me from start to finish, apart from one brief stint where he handed me off to another instructor for one lesson, and I had made it through the oral and flight test with only a few minor goofs. As a result, I was able to get my license the first time, instead of having to go back again. Still, I digress...

Don and I were chatting it up at an airport restaurant named Arnie’s, which is located at the old Bloomington, Illinois terminal. (Bloomington has since added a new, new terminal east of the old one, which is essentially abandoned with the exception of Arnie’s -- do us both a favor and stop in for some food. You have my word that the food and service are good, but they are dying without the terminal’s business!)

In any event, the subject of our discussion turned to drinking. Don immediately presented me with a rule that was easy to remember. “The rule is simple,” Don said. “There has to be 8 hours from bottle to throttle in order to fly a plane after drinking.” The rule was pretty cool -- first off, it was easy to remember because it was a mnemonic rhyme, one which my mind was able to immediately grasp. Secondly, it made a reasonable amount of sense to me, since I was a light social drinker at best.

(Before my friends write in to contest that, I have started having a drink on occasion after having abstained for more than a decade. That means I’ll break down for a glass of wine about once a month -- so I’m more of a very light drinker than a light drinker.) So, for me, the rule is good to know, but rarely -- if ever -- applicable. There are others who don't fit the description.

When you consider what some people do to their bodies, the eight-hour rule is not valid. Think of it this way: If you drink so much alcohol that you get past drunk, it takes time for your body to filter out the poison, and dispose of it. If you load up with a bunch of alcohol, your body won’t be able to get rid of it in eight hours, which means you won’t be fit to fly.

If you need any validation of this, think back to the last time you had a bit too much to drink. You went to bed and got back up at least 8 (likely more) hours later. When you think about it, did you feel fit to fly when you woke up? Most people are honest enough to admit that they didn’t feel fit to walk, much less fly after a night where they had a little too much.

SIMPLE RULES AND COMMON SENSE.

  • 8 Hours from Bottle to Throttle is only when you don’t drink enough to get drunk.
  • If you drink enough to get drunk, 8 hours probably isn’t enough. How much time is enough will depend on you and your body.
  • After drinking, don’t fly until you feel back to 100%, even if that takes a full day. To do otherwise is just dumb.
  • New hangover cures that have emerged on the market are NOT A SUBSTITUTE for waiting the required 8 hours.
  • The 8 hours starts from the end of your last drink, not the beginning of your first drink.
  • When in doubt, ABSTAIN -- from drink, or from flying -- as appropriate.
BOTTOM LINE: The only thing more dangerous than assuming that application of a simple rule is enough to keep you safe is assuming your competent eight hours after your last drink. Even the same amount of alcohol will effect you differently on a different day. Your body's ability to react is dependent on many factors. Having a pilot’s license is a privilege, not a right... and it's neither a privilege nor a right to mix alcohol and flying.

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