Tipsy turvy: AI pilot fails alcohol test after hitting the ground
A senior Air India (AI) pilot was caught drunk after having operated an international flight on Wednesday, in a rare incident in India’s aviation history where a pilot was tested positive for alcohol in a post-flight medical test.
The pilot turned out to be a repeat offender having failed a pre-flight alcohol test earlier.
Taking a serious view of the repeated violation by the same pilot, the flight safety department of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has suspended the pilot for four years instead of the usual three-year suspension handed out in such cases.
“Failing the post-flight medical test as compared to a preflight 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.”
In most western countries, such an offence would land the pilot in jail.
Wednesday’s incident happened on AI’s Sharjah-Calicut flight. Most airlines conduct post-flight medical tests for crew on international sectors once they return to their home base, since posting doctors to carry out pre-flight tests at overseas stations is a costly affair.
“The pilot failed the test on landing in Calicut. Other crew members were found to be ok,” said a senior official.
“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.
“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 the post flight test recently was also handed out a four-year suspension,” another source added.
In India, pilots are suspended for three months for the first violation, three years for the second and the licence is cancelled if they are caught a third time.
The pilot grounding, however, left AI stumped as there was no replacement pilot available to fly the connecting flight to Mumbai. “We had to divert a flight from Chennai to Calicut and drop a pilot in Calicut, resulting in unnecessary expenditure,” the airline official added.
“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 low level of alcohol can seriously impair his performance.”
Till July this year, there have 26 cases of pilots having tested positive for alcohol during preflight medical tests. In 2015, there were 43 such cases.