The domestic airlines in India seem to be fighting a losing battle against pilots who consume alcohol before embarking on flight operations. Despite stringent rules, which stipulate even the cancellation of the flying license of the erring pilots, the number of pilots reporting drunk on duty and getting “caught” is increasing.
As per the latest numbers shared by the Ministry of Civil Aviation last week, from 2015 to 2017, 132 pilots have been found drunk while reporting for duty. The figure for 2015 was 43, for 2016 it was 44 and for 2017 it was 45. In the preceding six years, nearly the same number of pilots were found to have violated norms.
In the preceding six years (2009-2014), 170 pilots were caught drunk while reporting for duty. (2014-18, 2013-31, 2012-41, 2011-20, 2010-25 and 2009-35). “In the last nine years period, we have discovered 300 plus pilots. And I will be very honest that it as an open secret that many pilots are able to dodge the test and are able to enter the cockpit despite being drunk. There are multiple ways to do this. We just do not have the adequate number of equipment to carry out the test to successfully claim that no drunk pilot has been able to bypass our tests. Many of our airports, especially in Delhi and Mumbai, handle more than 800 flights taking off daily and most of the tipsy pilots are identified from there,” a senior official with the Civil aviation ministry said. The most number of drunk pilots in the three years period between 2015 and 2017 were from Indigo (31), followed by Jet Airways (29), Air India (28) and Spice Jet (20). Responses from these airlines on the issue were still awaited at that time the story went to press. According to officials, the DGCA, the regulatory body of Civil Aviation, too has expressed concerns over the rising number of drunk pilots. As per the present rules, the first time offenders are not allowed to operate a flight for three months, the second time for three years while the licenses of the third time offenders are cancelled permanently. “We cannot wait for a catastrophe to happen. The menace of pilots reporting drunk and sometimes even managing to enter the cockpit and operate flights is very dangerous as hundreds of lives on the flight and on the ground are at stake,” a senior official with the ministry said.
According to pilots, the life style that comes with the profession was the main reason that many pilots report to duty after consuming alcohol. “For a long time we stay away from our family and dear ones. We have to move from one city to another many times without a long rest and taking to alcohol to ‘relax’ is the only choice that is left. However, I am yet to come across any pilot who has not taken the dangers of mixing alcohol with flying into account while reporting for duty. We try to drink in moderation but sometimes even 2-3 pegs of alcohol can get you in trouble,” a pilot who flies for a Gulf based airlines and has flown a domestic flight for multiple years said.