Pilots and cabin crew personnel operating out of the Mumbai airport were in for a new year surprise as air safety officials from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) deferred their customary pre-flight alcohol detection tests at the last minute. Even the equipment used to test alcohol levels in the blood were more advanced that the one used regularly.
On Tuesday, the Hindustan Times had reported that a co-pilot and three cabin crew personnel were grounded for testing positive during the tests. Of these, two flight attendants are employed with Kingfisher and Jetlite respectively while the co-pilot and cabin crew personnel are employed with Indigo Airlines.
The airline crew was expecting the checks to start at 5am on January 1, but DGCA officials reached the Mumbai airport only at 10 am. "Airline crew thought that the checks were cancelled, but the change in timings took them by surprise," said an airport official requesting anonymity.
The advanced equipment used by DGCA officials was more effective as compared to that used by airline staff for routine checks. The DGCA safety officers used a breath analyser device called alcosensor IV as opposed to alcosensor III used by airline crew. The latter accepts the breath blown from the mouth (local air). Anyone under the influence of alcohol can get away by popping a mouth freshener or brushing teeth before the tests.
However, the superior version of the device does not register a reading unless air in blown into it with high pressure, i.e. from the lung. "The four flight crew caught during the recent tests could have got away had the official used alcosensor III," said another airport official.
Last year, the civil aviation ministry had amended rules to make the punishment severe for flight crew reporting drunk at work. According to the amendment, pilots caught for the first time will be grounded for three months; flying licences of second time offenders are cancelled forever.