The number of pilots and flight attendants who were found drunk on duty in 2015 was the highest since 2012 when the country’s air safety regulator made breath tests compulsory and introduced advanced tools.
Data from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) showed that while the number of such offenders steadily fell in 2013 and 2014, it saw a rise last year. The list of offenders included senior commanders and cabin crew heads, said DGCA sources. According to the data, the number of offenders fell from 183 in 2012 to 166 in 2013 and 144 in the subsequent year but increased to 186 cases last year.
On January 1, this year, a Boeing commander and a first officer with a private airline were grounded for three months for the same offence, officials added. In 2015, crew found guilty of reporting drunk for duty primarily comprised those who skipped the pre-flight breath check-ups. “This is a new trend. They (crew) feel that by skipping tests they can get away. But our policy on this issue is clear. Even those to skip the test would be booked as offenders,” said a senior official from the DGCA’s air safety department requesting anonymity.
Until 2012, offenders’ numbers were negligible as checks were random and devices used were inferior. “It is fair to compare the data from 2012 onward as 100% checks were introduced for scheduled as well as private chartered flights and use of advanced handheld breath alcohol testers such as Alco-Sensor IV were made mandatory,” said the DGCA official.
One of the reasons behind the spike in offenders’ numbers is increase in checks, said officials.
Some pilots said post-flight checks were unfair. The safety regulator’s policy states that for international flights originating outside India the breath checks should be conducted after the crew arrives in the country. “I do not see a point in conducting a check after a person has safety completed a flight,” said an Airbus captain requesting anonymity.
The pilot added that a few of his colleagues were recently benched because they forgot to take the tests.
“After a long flight you are too fatigued to remember to take the test before leaving the airport,” he said adding that post-flight tests had become a pressure point for some pilots.
The regulator had faced flak from independent air safety experts for relaxing the punishment for inebriated aviators, last year. Before the amendment that came into effect in June 2014, repeat offenders would be benched for life. Now, their flying licenses are suspended for three years and those caught for the third time are grounded for life.
“India is f acing an acute shortage of pilots particularly commanders. Harsher punishments could end up hurting the sector more,” said a civil aviation ministry official.