Following allegations that Air India crews have eluded required breathalyzer tests, regulators have proposed new rules that would require some pilots to be treated several times a day.
A brewing controversy has escalated after the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) accused Air India of neglecting to enforce rules that require flight crews to be tested for Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) before their first flight of the day and after the completion of the final trip of the workday. The dispute has inspired proposed rule changes that will both stiffen penalties and step up enforcement.
The rule changes proposed by the DGCA come after the regulatory body threatened to ground more than 500 Air India crew members for what the agency considered to be intentional evasion of preflight BAC testing. Currently, crew members who miss or otherwise evade a required breathalyzer test can have licenses suspended for up to four weeks. The DGCA now wants to amend regulations to increase the penalty for pilots who repeatedly miss alcohol tests to a suspension of as long as four years.
While Air India officials apologized for the alleged lapses in testing, the airline maintains that its flight crews were following a slightly different interpretation of the rules. The DGCA said that the proposed regulatory changes are needed, in part, to further make clear the regulations already in place under the current civil aviation requirements (CAR).
“There was no violation of breath analyzer test at the last point for all the flights,” Air India Chairman and Managing Director Rajiv Bansal told India Express. “We have sincerely apologized and assured the DGCA that we will carry out breath analyzer tests as per their requirements and as per the clarity given on the CAR.”
The proposed new rules will reportedly spell out that all flight crews are to be be tested for alcohol at both the start and end of duty. Pilots will also now be required to submit to follow-up breathalyzer testing if they exit the secure area of a stopover airport for any reason. The DGCA also hopes that the planned regulation changes will put more responsibility on the airlines to enforce the requirements.
According to one of the planned rule changes, “If a crew member operates a flight without undergoing the pre-flight breath analyzer examination, the Chief of Operations of the concerned airline shall ensure that the involved crew member is off-rostered at the first point of landing and same is reported to DGCA as per the CAR provisions.”