According to the aviation safety regulator, at least one pilot tested positive for alcohol every second day between January and June this year. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) shared this data on October 13 in response to a query filed under the Right to Information Act. The data revealed that 89 pilots tested positive during mandatory breath-checks before operating a flight.
“It shows lack of enforcement by the regulator. If these many pilots were caught, it indicates several unreported cases,” said Captain Mohan Ranganathan, retired Boeing commander and a former member of a government-appointed independent air safety panel. He added, “This would not stop unless they make it a criminal offence. They are risking hundreds of lives.”
The DGCA data stated that such safety lapses almost tripled from 69 cases in 2011 to 186 in 2015. While DGCA chief BS Bhullar did not respond to HT’s calls, officials from the regulator’s air safety department told HT that cases have increased owing to the better enforcement.
“Earlier, we used an outdated device called Alco sensor III, which was easy to trick. There were cases when pilots suspected to be tipsy popped a mint before blowing into the device and got away. But the devices used now do not register a value unless air is blown with extremely high force. As a result mouth fresheners cannot save you,” said a senior DGCA official requesting anonymity.
Alcohol tests are carried out before and after flights to check for violations that can invite suspension. A pilot stands to lose licence for repeat offences. While most of these violations took place before the pilots entered the cockpit in August, the DGCA asked Jet Airways and Air India to file police complaints against a pilot each from the respective airlines after two pilots were caught drunk after touchdown. According to reports both the pilots- repeat offenders were banned from flying for four years.