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India's aviation regulator DGCA has found 132 pilots and 434 cabin crew of state-owned Air India to have allegedly skipped the mandatory pre and post-flight alcohol test this year and they face the prospect of being grounded.
These crew members had regularly been "evading" the breath analyser (BA) test over a period of time for flights to and from certain destinations such as Singapore, Kuwait, Bangkok, Ahmedabad and Goa, sources close to the development told PTI today.
Air India on its part said it is in full compliance of all the norms set by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and that it will be complying with any directive issued by the regulator.
Any crew member who tests positive in the pre-flight medical check or refuses to take a breath-analyser test is required to be taken off flying duty for at least four weeks and the airline is required to initiate disciplinary proceedings, according to civil aviation rules.
DGCA has already served an ultimatum to the Air India management over the alleged safety violations by the airline's crew members ahead of its enforcement action, the sources said.
As part of the DGCA's safety regulations, all pilots and cabin crew must undergo the BA test before and after flights.
Notably, aircraft rules prohibit crew members from taking any alcoholic drink 12 hours prior to the commencement of a flight.
"The DGCA already brought it to the notice of Air India management that its 132 pilots and 434 cabin crew have evaded the mandatory breath analyser(BA) test, which is to be taken both before and after operating a flight. It is a safety violation and it (DGCA) is taking a suitable action against these crew members," the sources said.
Since the grounding of such a large number of crew members could cripple the airline's narrow body operations, the DGCA is likely to enforce its action in a phased manner, the sources said.
Stating that Air India is in full compliance with all the DGCA norms, an airline statement said, " We are working with DGCA and will be complying with any directive issued by the DGCA."
Referring to the present issue of the crew allegedly skipping the tests, the statement said the Civil Aviation Requirements(CAR) of the DGCA indicated that all scheduled flights originating from destinations outside India, post flight-breath BA examination of each flight and cabin crew are to be carried out on reaching India.
"This has been interpreted by the Airline Management as a requirement to carry out post flight medical after completion of their flight which gets over at final destination," it said.
Significantly, the DGCA had in February suspended the flying license of Air India's then executive director for operations, Arvind Kathpalia, for three months after an internal probe found him "guilty" of skipping the breath analyser test for one particular flight.
Kathpalia is now head of operations and a Board member at the disinvestment-bound Air India.
As per DGCA, 224 pilots and crew members of various airlines failed the test in 2016, whereas 202 pilots and crew members failed the test in 2015.