2 Air India Pilots Grounded as One Fails Alcohol Test, Another Skips it; Passengers Stranded for Hours
Several passengers on a Delhi-Bangkok flight complained that they were made to sit in the plane for hours without being given any reason for the delay.
New Delhi: Passengers on two international flights of Air India were left in the lurch on Sunday as a senior pilot who was due to fly from London to New Delhi tested positive in a breath-analyser test, while a co-pilot skipped the test before the flight from Delhi to Bangkok, forcing the aircraft to return soon after taking off.
Captain Arvind Kathpalia, who is Air India’s chief of operations, was grounded and faces a three-year ban after an unacceptably high alcohol count was detected in his blood, shortly before he was supposed to fly a Boeing 787 Dreamliner plane from Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport.
Air India had to call another pilot to replace him and operate the flight, AI-111, which departed after a delay of 55 minutes, causing inconvenience to passengers.
"We have grounded Captain A K Kathpalia as he failed twice in the breath analyser test. He was to operate the London flight from New Delhi, but he failed to clear the pre- flight alcohol test," an official said. "He was given another chance, but the second test was also found positive following which he was grounded," he added.
Air India spokesperson was not available for comments on the matter.
While Kathpalia now faces a probe by aviation regulator DGCA, Air India flight AI 332 to Bangkok returned within 30 minutes after taking off from the Delhi airport. The flight was then delayed by several hours after the co-pilot skipped the mandatory breath analyser test.
The flight, which departed at 1.50 pm and returned by 2.20 pm, could not depart again as the crew’s flight timing had lapsed. Air India had to arrange an alternative crew and the flight could only take-off at 7.20 pm.
Several passengers complained that they were made to sit in the plane for hours without being given any reason for the delay.
“No announcement. No pilot in the plane. Air India’s Delhi to Bangkok plane is still at Delhi airport with people stranded inside. Four hours and counting,” tweeted a flyer named Sachin Yadav, and tagged civil aviation minister Suresh Prabhu.
According to airline sources, the pilot has been grounded for three months. A pilot is assumed breath analyzer-positive even if he has forgotten to take the test before the flight.
Rule 24 of the Aircraft Rules prohibits crew members from partaking any alcoholic drink 12 hours prior to the commencement of a flight, and it is mandatory for him or her to undergo an alcohol test both before and after operating a flight.
The prescribed punishment for such offences under the DGCA rules is suspension of flying licence for three months in case of first breach. For violating the norms for a second time, the licence is suspended for three years and for a third time, the licence is permanently cancelled.
Earlier, Captain Kathpalia's flying licence was suspended in 2017 for three months by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for allegedly skipping the breath analyser test before a flight.
He was subsequently removed from the post of executive director, operations. However, he was later appointed to the post of director (operations) in Air India Ltd for a period of five years. A senior official at the DGCA said that a decision on Kathpalia's flying licence is expected to be taken on Monday.
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