Playing with passengers’ lives

Captain Arvind Kathpalia is no ordinary commercial pilot. He is the Director (Operations) of the Air India, the Government’s flagship airliner. He was to fly a New Delhi-London flight on Sunday afternoon. When put to the compulsory pre-flight breathalyser test, he was found to have “unacceptably high blood alcohol count”. What compounds his – and his employer the Air India’s – guilt is that this is the second time he had been found drunk. In February he had his pilot’s licence suspended for three months for “skipping” a breathalyser test. On the face of it, soon after he was allowed to fly, he has gone back to his old habit.
Cynical disregard of the mandatory safety rules is the last thing that is expected of a man of his position. He was putting at risk the lives of all the passengers booked in that flight. Now, after the second offence, his flying licence may be cancelled for three years. Why only for three years? Why not permanently? And why a criminal case should not be instituted against him for committing an act that endangered the lives of scores of passengers? Several people connected with commercial aviation sector have disclosed that the Director-General of Civil Aviation usually treats pilots of the sarkari Air India “leniently” when caught for breaking rules compared to pilots of other commercial airlines. This is a serious charge that needs to be gone into thoroughly. The mandatory rule is that a pilot or a co-pilot must not take alcoholic beverages twelve hours before the flight starts. Capt. Kathpalia had failed that test. He is now challenging the finding of the test and attributing it to an instrument failure.
According to newspaper reports, every year about twenty flight crew fail the breathalyser test. A drunk member of the crew is at best a nuisance to the passengers. But a drunk pilot or co-pilot flying a plane with several hundred passengers on board is a criminal. How pilots can “skip” alcohol test, as reportedly happened with Kathpalia in the past, is a question which warrants a reply from the DGCA as well as the Air India. Licences should be permanently revoked if a pilot is found to have failed to pass the breathlyser rest for the second time. And the rule should be strictly enforces in all cases, irrespective of the airlines the pilot may be employed with. The lives of passengers travelling by Air India are not less valuable than those of passengers travelling by other airlines.

Tuesday, 13 November, 2018