A senior member of Air India’s crew has failed breathalyser tests just moments before flying from Delhi to London. Captain Arvind Kathpalia is not simply a senior person either; he is, in fact, the Director of Flight Safety.
As it’s Kathpalia’s second brush with India’s strict alcohol laws, he faces suspension of three years following this latest failure.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said, “The privileges of his licence have been suspended for a period of three years from 11.11.2018 as per the provisions of applicable regulations”
Should Captain Kathpalia ever fail or refuse to take the mandatory breathalyzer test again, his license will be revoked permanently.
“A bloody stark raving alcoholic”
Kathpalia has denied any wrongdoing, saying to the press:
“It was 1.30pm in the afternoon, only a bloody stark raving alcoholic is bloody drunk at 1.30pm in the afternoon. I am going to contest this.”Advertisement
The pilot demanded a second breathalyser test after the first was returned positive. The Air India doctor servicing the tests obliged, and the second came back even higher. This is typical if someone has recently had a drink, as it takes time for the alcohol to reach the blood stream.
In 2017 he was suspended for three months after apparently refusing to take the obligatory breath test. India’s aviation rules state that a pilot is assumed breath analyser-positive if they do not take the test.
At the time, he claimed he was ‘set up’, although police attempted to lodge an FIR against him for tampering with evidence and intimidating an Air India doctor.
Kathpalia has worked for Air India for several years. Bizarrely he was promoted to his current role as Director of Flight Safety after his rule breach in 2017.
Air India’s dubious history with alcohol
India has some of the strictest rules worldwide in regard to alcohol consumption. Rule 24 of the Aircraft Rules prohibit crew members from drinking anything alcoholic 12 hours before flying and insist on a breath test before and after their flight.
Despite this, India as a whole and Air India in particular have one of the worst records for alcohol offences. In April 2017, a pilot allegedly arrived for work drunk, and was grounded for three months.
A Right to Information (RTI) request from India Today TV has revealed that 10 Air India pilots have already been suspended this year, and that 58 pilots for the carrier have been found over the limit in the past eight years.
According to the DCGA, they suspend anywhere between one and four pilots a month for breaking alcohol limit laws. India Governmental figures, however, show the numbers could be significantly higher than this.
In 2015, 49 cases relating to breathalyser testing were reported, jumping 24% in 2016 to 61. Air India are the biggest culprit for alcohol violations, registering 24 cases in 2016, compared to 9 on IndiGo and 7 on SpiceJet.
Issues around the airline’s financial health have led to them recently selling off $33m of property in a bid to reduce their debt burden. Questions have been raised about the safety of the flag carrier, after an aircraft hit a wall on takeoff in October and another landed on the wrong runway a month before.