A senior Air India (AI) pilot tested positive for alcohol after landing his flight from Sharjah at Kozhikode in Kerala on Wednesday, in only the second such incident in India’s aviation history.
As he was a repeat offender, having previously failed a pre-flight test, the flight safety department of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) handed out a four-year suspension instead of the usual three years.
In most western countries, flying a plane while drunk would land the pilot in jail.
“We confirm the incident. We have de-rostered the pilot and set up an inquiry committee to look into the incident,” said an AI spokesperson.
“Failing the post-flight medical test as compared to a pre-flight test is a ‘grave safety violation’ as the pilot has operated a flight with passengers on-board under the influence of alcohol,” a DGCA source said. “There cannot be any leniency in such cases.”
Most airlines conduct post-flight medical tests for crew on international sectors once they return to their home base, as posting doctors to carry out pre-flight tests overseas becomes a costly affair.
“The pilot failed the test on landing in Kozhikode. Other crew members were found to be ok,” said a senior official.
Grounding the pilot, however, left AI in a hole as there was no replacement pilot available to fly the connecting flight to Mumbai. “We had to divert a flight from Chennai to Kozhikode and drop a pilot there, resulting in unnecessary expenditure,” the airline official told HT.
“Coming drunk is a criminal offence that cannot be condoned. Passenger safety is our top priority,” said the senior official quoted above.
“This is only the second case of a pilot caught drunk post flight in India. The pilot of a private airline who failed a post-flight test recently was also handed out a four-year suspension,” another source said.
In India, pilots are suspended for three months for the first violation, three years for the second and the licence is cancelled for a third offence.
“A pilot has to be extremely vigilant in the cockpit as his job requires simultaneous monitoring of controls and coordination with authorities like the ATC (Air Traffic Control),” according to a safety expert. “Even a minor level of alcohol can seriously impair his performance.”
Till July this year, there have 26 cases of pilots having tested positive for alcohol during pre-flight medical tests. In 2015, there were 43 such cases.