As the second wave of COVID-19 impacts India, one pilot’s union has asked the government to suspend the use of breathalyzer tests for pilots. Breathalyzer tests ensure that pilots have not consumed alcohol in the last 12 hours and can fly safely. However, the nature of the tests (blowing into a device) has made it a concern during the pandemic.
The Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) has asked India’s aviation regulator, the DGCA, to suspend the use of the breathalyzers once again, according to The Print. The association represents around 600 Air India pilots from across the country and has reached out to the government several times during the pandemic.
All pilots currently flying are required to take a breathalyzer test both before and after a flight. This ensures that no pilot is under the influence at the time or has consumed alcohol in the 12 hours before a flight. The process usually requires a person to blow into a machine that can detect alcohol levels in respiratory droplets.
However, since COVID-19 can easily spread through droplets, many are concerned about the use of breathalyzers. While the outer layer of plastic (that one blows into) can be replaced after each use, hygiene issues cause concern.
Breathalyzers were first suspended for pilots flying certain routes in February 2020, one of the earliest signs of the impact of COVID-19 on Indian aviation. As the pandemic broke out, all breathalyzer tests were suspended from March to September due to the high risk. However, tests resumed in September as cases slowly began to drop.
As India faces its second wave, pilots suddenly find themselves once again at a high risk of contracting the virus. With over 185,000 cases recorded yesterday and 200,000 daily passengers, flight crew are at the front line. The union has asked for a speedy decision in regard to the suspension of breathalyzers.
The DGCA is yet to respond to the letter, which was sent yesterday. The ICPA also made a heartfelt appeal to the DGCA to recognize the critical work of pilots and help protect them, saying,
“We sincerely hope that you recognise pilots in India are bravely continuing to fly aircraft despite such pandemic and only seek your indulgence to instil greater confidence in our pilots by showing them the DGCA cares for their health and safety during these testing times.”
While suspending breathalyzers might seem like an easy decision, there are potential hurdles. In December 2019, four SpiceJet pilots were suspended for failing a breathalyzer test and similar cases have been seen globally.
Obviously, flying while under the influence of alcohol, no matter how little the amount, poses a huge safety risk. This is why most countries require breathalyzers tests for crew members to err on the side of caution. However, as the pandemic rages, countries might have to trust their pilots and suspend tests for now.
What do you think about the matter? Should breathalyzers remain in use for pilots? Let us know in the comments!