On Monday, the aviation sector watchers raised a toast to the regulator DGCA for suspending the flying license of Air India director of operations Arvind Kathpalia after he failed the alcohol test recently before his scheduled flight as pilot. The sector experts also commended the regulator's stringent norms in dealing with the cases of drunken flying, and putting the passengers' safety ahead of everything.
In fact, DGCA's regulations pertaining to alcohol consumption for flight crew members - pilots and co-pilots - and cabin crew members are way more strict than the rest of the world. For instance, DGCA allows zero alcohol levels in blood for pilots before flying an aircraft. It also mandates 12 hours of gap between flying an aircraft and the last sip of any alcohol - whisky, beer, wine, champagne, ale or other alcoholic beverages.
The norms in other matured economies like the US and European Union are comparatively relaxed. The Federal Aviation Administration, the nodal aviation agency in the US, prohibits pilots from flying an aircraft with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than 0.04 per cent (or 0.4 grams of alcohol per litre of blood). FAA mandates a shorter time window - eight hours - between the consumption of alcohol and reporting for duty.
According to the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), that governs aviation safety legislation in 32 European countries, a pilot cannot operate an aircraft with BAC of 0.02 per cent. It says that alcohol should not be consumed within eight hours of performing duties related to operating an aircraft, including flight preparation.
The DGCA regulations have three categories. The first-time offenders are barred from flying for three months whereas the second-time offenders are barred for three years. If a pilot is caught flouting the norms for the third-time, the flying license is permanently revoked. Since Kathpalia was suspended in 2017 for skipping the breath analyser test before a flight, the recent test was his second offense.
DGCA also gives fair chance to pilots and crew members to come out clean. For instance, if the breath-analyzer examination is tested positive, a repeat test is conducted after a gap of 15-20 minutes. The crew is permitted to wash face and rinse mouth before the second test is being carried out.
The aviation experts believe that this instance will send a strong message to the crew members who have been casual about safety regulations. According to reports, some 58 pilots of the national carrier Air India were found to be drunk in the past eight years right before their scheduled flights. For aircraft crew fearing a stronger action against them as well, experts advice cold showers, drinking black coffee, or breathing 100 per cent oxygen to eliminate alcohol from the body as quickly as possible.