AI pilot turns up drunk for flight, grounded for three months

NEW DELHI
9 Apr 2017

An Air India pilot has been grounded for three months after he tested positive in the mandatory pre-flight alcohol test, minutes before operating a flight to Abu Dhabi from here. The pilot was rostered to fly the Air India Express IX 115 Delhi to Abu Dhabi flight, which was scheduled for departure from Indira Gandhi International Airport at 8:50pm yesterday. "The pilot who was on deputation with AI Express tested positive in the pre-flight breath analyser (BA) test. Since this was the first time he has failed his test he has been grounded for three months," an Air India source said. Rule 24 of the Aircraft Rules prohibits crew members from partaking any alcoholic drink, 12 hours prior to the commencement of a flight, and it is mandatory for him or her to undergo an alcohol test both before and after operating a flight. Any crew member who tests positive in the pre-flight medical check or refuses to take a breathlyser test is required to be taken off flying duty and his or her licence is suspended for three months. In case of a repeat offence, the licence of the crew member is suspended for 3 years. However, despite strict provisions, DGCA sources say pilots failing the breathlyser test is a common occurrence. "We suspend anywhere between 1-4 pilots every month for this offence," a DGCA official said. As per data shared by Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha in Parliament last month, this is the second-most common air safety breach committed by crew members, with violations related to breathalyser testing increasing from 49 cases in 2015 to 61 in 2016 -- a jump of 24 per cent. In fact, Air India pilots were the top violators in 2016 with the national carrier registering 24 cases, followed by Indigo with 9 cases and SpiceJet with 7 cases. Recently, a senior official of Air India, Captain AK Kathpalia, was suspended for 3 months by the DGCA for allegedly skipping the breathalyser test before a flight. He was subsequently removed from the post of Executive Director, Operations. However, he was later appointed to the post of Director (Operations) in Air India Ltd for a period of five years, in a decision taken by the Appointments Committee of Cabinet. This move has been opposed by one of the pilot unions for "his dubious track record".(PTI)