Though the number of pilots “caught drunk” while reporting for duty has been increasing over the years, officials of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) feel that the system of checks and balances is robust and there is no need for any changes in the existing system.
A senior DGCA official, who did not wish to be named, told The Sunday Guardian: “The system that has been put in place by the DGCA is working ‘perfectly’ fine as pilots are getting caught drunk and there is no need for the DGCA to set up an independent body for monitoring alcohol tests. If there was a lacuna in the system, pilots would never have got caught.” He further added that pilots cannot be completely stopped from drinking as “all humans are not the same”. “Wherever there is human intervention, there would be some cases of errant behaviour. We cannot completely stop the menace of drunk pilots because humans are bound to make errors,” the DGCA officer cited above said.
Civil aviation experts, however, argue that to bring an end to the menace of drunk pilots, the DGCA must conduct mandatory tests by an independent body and should not leave things to the airlines as they mostly succumb to the pressure of the pilots’ lobby within the airlines.
Jitender Bhargava, former Executive Director, Air India, told The Sunday Guardian, “If we have to make airline safety our paramount concern, we cannot leave something as serious as pre-flight alcohol tests to the airlines, because what happens is that the pilots’ lobby in every airline is very strong. In most cases, we see the airline management succumbing to pressure from the pilots’ lobby and handling pilots with kid gloves. What the DGCA should do is set up their own monitoring system and conduct independent tests that would be driven by safety concerns only and without any influence of the pilots’ lobby.” Between 2015 to 2017, 132 pilots were reported to have been “caught” drunk while on duty. Figures provided by the Ministry of Civil Aviation show an upward trend of pilots reporting to duty drunk. In 2015, 43 pilots reported to work in an inebriated state, in 2016, it was 44 and in 2017, it was 45.
Among 132 total pilots who reported to duty in an inebriated state between 2015-2017, some were also repeat offenders and this despite the DGCA having mandatory rules of breath analyser tests for pilots before and after they take a flight and punishment for offenders.