The Delhi High Court today said that pre-flight breathalyser tests are mandatory for flight and cabin crew under the Civil Aviation Regulations (CAR) but the rules are not being followed properly by the DGCA. Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva directed the DGCA and Air India (AI) to ensure this requirement is not circumvented in the future and if necessary to consider making amendments to the CAR to ensure the objective of enacting it is achieved.
The court was of the view that the tests were not being correctly followed by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) as these were being held at the start of every fight cycle, which comprises several flights, instead of after every flight.
It noted that this practice was being followed by the DGCA on the assumption that after the pre-flight test, before the first flight of the day, the pilots and crew would not leave the sterile area till the end of their duty cycle. “According to the safety regulations under the CAR, it is mandatory for each flight crew and cabin crew to be subjected to pre-flight breathalyser examination prior to each flight.
“This negates the submission of the respondent (DGCA) that pre-flight breathalyser examination is required to be taken only once during the flight duty cycle,” it said.
The court’s observations came on a plea by a pilots association which had sought stringent action against senior AI pilot, Captain Arvind Kathpalia, for missing a pre-flight breath analyser test in January this year.
The Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), in its plea, had contended that the senior pilot had flown a flight to Bengaluru from Delhi without taking the mandatory breathalyser test and then operated the return flight too without taking the test.
Thereafter, he had made an ante-dated entry in the pre- flight medical register in Delhi after arriving back here, the ICPA had alleged.
In the instant case, the DGCA had suspended the flying licence of the pilot for three months.
ICPA had contended that since pre-flight tests were missed by the pilot before both the flights to and from Bengaluru, the punishment of three months be enhanced to three years for two offences.
The court did not enhance this punishment, as sought by the ICPA, as the DGCA had considered the two flights operated by the pilot as one flight cycle.
The court, however, took a serious view of the senior pilot’s act of making an entry in the pre-flight test register, saying it “acquires serious proportions in view of the very purpose of CAR — to ensure flight safety and safety of passengers, who put their lives in the hands of the pilots”.
“The gravity of the situation is further compounded by the fact that Captain Kathpalia had earlier held the post of Executive Director (Operations) and had been instrumental in making other pilots and crew aware that CAR was mandatory.
“He himself had been responsible for ensuring compliance with CAR in the interest of air safety. The gravity of the offence is increased, when the very person whose job is to ensure compliance of the mandatory provisions, himself violates the same and not only does he violate the mandatory provisions but makes a false entry in the register to cover up his lapse,” it said.
The court ordered a disciplinary enquiry in the conduct of Captain Kathpalia with regard to making an entry in the pre-flight medical examination register and antedating the same and to take appropriate action in accordance with law.
Direction was also issued to the Air India to “identify and fix responsibility on the officer(s) who were responsible and failed to immediately bring the infraction on the part of Captain Kathpalia to the notice of the DGCA, and thereafter, to take appropriate action in accordance with law (against them)”.
With regard to the making of ante-dated entry by the pilot, the court said “the incident highlights the loophole in CAR, whereby the mandatory requirement of CAR can easily be avoided in case of collusion between the doctor on duty and the pilot”.
It said that both DGCA and Air India, need to examine the issue and take remedial steps.
“The consequences of such an action can be drastic. Such an action cannot be lightly brushed aside completely, without the disciplinary authority applying its mind to it,” it said.