Indian pilots’ pre-flight alcohol test failure rate doubled in 2022

At least 41 pilots failed mandatory alcohol tests in 2022, more than double compared to 19 cases reported the year before, according to data maintained by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). The number of cabin crew failing the preflight breathalyzer (BA) test saw a nearly threefold jump from last year, with 116 positive cases being reported this year as against 39 in 2021.

Both cockpit and cabin crew members must undergo a breathalyzer (BA) test before departure and after the arrival of an examination, flight to determine the concentration of alcohol in their blood.

Among the 41 pilots who failed the BA test this year, 35 were attached with commercial airlines. Similarly, 15 of the 19 pilots testing positive in 2021 were commercial pilots.

“While the remaining pilots tested positive were nonscheduled operators, five scheduled cockpit and eight cabin crew were reported as ‘missed BA test’,” said an official from the civil aviation ministry, requesting anonymity.

To ensure that pilots flying passengers and air traffic control officials guiding them are not under the influence of hard narcotics, DGCA began a psychoactive test of the flight crew and air traffic controllers (ATCO) this year.

According to the data, five aviation personnel — three pilots and two air traffic controllers — failed the drug test. The regulator also took more than 300 enforcement actions against airlines and individuals in general for several non-compliances.

“A total of eight aviation personnel had tested positive in the first round. However, three of them tested negative when the samples were sent to the US for the confirmatory test report,” a DGCA official said, also declining to be named.

Aviation experts said such cases could be brought down if the regulatory body started treating them as a criminal offence.

“According to the civil aviation rules (CAR), the crew’s licence is suspended only when he/she tests positive a third time and is off the roster for three months for the first two times,” said an industry expert.

Aviation safety expert Mohan Ranganathan said, “These cases can only be brought under control when they are treated as a criminal offence and action is taken for the first time itself.”

Last year, it was also reported that between January 2021 and March 2022, a total of 84 people working at 42 Indian airports failed alcohol tests. The DGCA stated that the aviation personnel covered under these rules included aircraft maintenance engineers, vehicle drivers who drive fuelling and catering vehicles, equipment operators, aerobridge operators, marshallers, personnel guarding aprons, and ground handling services and ATC personnel.

India maintains one of the strictest alcohol limits for airline crew in the world. The DGCA allows zero alcohol levels in the blood of airplane crew before a flight. It also mandates a 12-hour gap between flying an aircraft and the intake of an alcoholic beverage.

(With Inputs from The Hindustan Times)