Pilots can’t stop hitting the bottle before entering the cockpit and the most frequent offenders in recent years are from Jet Airways and IndiGo, two airlines that dominate the country’s aviation market.
As per the data available with the DGCA, 112 pilots tested positive for alcohol prior to the commencement of their flights from January 2013 till April 28, Minister of State for Civil Aviation Mahesh Sharma said in a written reply in the Lok Sabha recently. Of these, a maximum number of 33 pilots were from full service carrier Jet Airways, while 25 belonged to budget airline IndiGo, he said.
Nineteen pilots of national carrier Air India were found positive in the breath analyser test during this period, he added. A total of 30 pilots tested positive for alcohol during the pre-flight medical test in 2013. The number came down to 26 in 2014, he said. In 2015, 43 pilots tested positive for alcohol. Till April this year, the number stood at 13, he said.
The DGCA rules mandate that pilots and cabin crew of all scheduled flights must be subjected to pre-flight breath-analyser examination. “For all scheduled flights originating from destinations outside India, post-flight breath-analyser examination of each flight crew and cabin crew shall be carried out on reaching in India,” the rules add.
In case of a violation, a pilot’s licence will be suspended for three months for a first time offence. For a second violation, the pilot’s licence is suspended for three years. A third time offence leads to a cancellation of the pilot’s licence. “I am at loss for words,” an aviation expert said, requesting anonymity.
“This is completely unacceptable behaviour and needs to be eliminated ruthlessly. No normal office goer goes to work drunk, stating physical, mental or emotional fatigue,” he said. “Here, we are talking about someone who is responsible for human lives both in the aircraft and on the ground. A tiny error of judgement can cause irreparable damage,” he added.
IndiGo, India’s largest airline by market share, explained that the company undertakes an alcohol dependency check after a pilot is suspended and, so far, has not found a single case of alcohol dependency.
A spokesperson for Jet Airways said the airline is compliant with Indian regulations on pre-flight screening of all pilots and cabin crew. “On the basis of this and as per internal airline policy, crew members if found BA+ (breath analyser positive) face a 3-month suspension without pay and benefits.
A second offence results in termination of services,” the spokesperson said. “The rigorous nature of the screening process for crew members before a flight, and the punitive action taken against those who do not comply with such safety standards, is in itself a deterrent,” the spokesperson added.
By 2020, India is likely to become the world’s third largest aviation market after the US and China, with the country’s airports expected to carry as many as 369 million passengers compared to 190 million currently. The regulator is of the view that alcohol present in the body “even in small quantities” jeopardises flight safety on several counts and is likely to adversely affect an aviator well into the hangover period. Ryan Callahan Womens JerseyShare This