Over 150 pilots belonging to different airlines in India were caught drunk on duty in the past four years, putting the lives of thousands of airline passengers in danger. This information was revealed in an RTI reply to The Sunday Guardian by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the aviation watchdog.
The RTI reply further said that, this year, 41 pilots tested breathalyzer-positive for consumption of alcohol when they reported for duty. In 2016, 46 pilots were tested to be under the influence of alcohol when they were on duty. In 2014 and 2015, 26 and 43 pilots respectively tested positive for alcohol consumption.
Aviation security experts have raised great concern over the large number of pilots reporting to work in an inebriated state every year, despite DGCA’s provisions to check drunk flying.
The DGCA has, however, refused to provide details of the pilots and the airlines that defaulted the most. According to information provided by the Ministry of Civil Aviation to the Lok Sabha last year, Jet Airways and low cost carrier Indigo registered the highest number of pilots drunk on duty.
Between 2014 and April 2016, Indigo saw 20 of their pilots drunk on duty, while Jet Airways, along with its low cost carrier Jet Lite, saw 23 drunk pilots reporting for duty. Air India saw 17 pilots drunk, while SpiceJet 15 during the same period.
Jitender Bhargava, former Executive Director of Air India, told The Sunday Guardian, “Reports of pilots reporting for duty drunk still prevail because of the lack of effective implementation of the DGCA rules by the airlines. The airlines need to conduct a medical test of all their pilots before they are allowed to fly, but what the airlines sometimes do is that they give a leeway to the pilots who they think are moderately drunk, putting at risk the lives of thousands of air travellers. Air safety should not be compromised at any cost.”
He further added that instead of giving warning through suspensions, the DGCA should terminate the flying licences of pilots flying under the influence of alcohol the very first time, so that this acts as a deterrent for erring pilots.
Also, according to highly placed sources within the DGCA, the pilots and the airlines, with the connivance of the doctors on duty, give away fitness certificates to pilots despite some of these pilots being under the “moderate” influence of alcohol. “We have noticed such cases several times in the past as well. The DGCA conducts surprise checks at all airports to ensure safety and security and that is how the numbers of drunk pilots have come up,” a source told this newspaper.
Presently, the DGCA suspends the licences of erring pilots for three months for a first offence; for the second time, the pilot’s licence is suspended for five months; and in case of a third offence, the pilot’s licence is cancelled.
Kanu Gohain, former director general of the DGCA, told this correspondent, “The rising number of drunk pilots is a cause for concern. The DGCA needs to take exemplary action against the defaulting pilots to make the Indian skies safer and create a strict deterrent for pilots who are repeat offenders. During my time in the DGCA, I would conduct regular checks across all airports unannounced, especially during the festive seasons.”
DGCA’s Rule 24 of the Aircraft Rules 1937, maintains that “No person acting as, or carried in aircraft for the purpose of acting as pilot, commander, navigator, engineer, cabin crew or other operating member of the crew thereof, shall have taken or used any alcoholic drink, sedative, narcotic or stimulant drug or preparation within twelve hours of the commencement of the flight or take or use any such preparation in the course of the flight...”