In a rather sad indictment on Air India, 56-year old Captain Arvind Kathpalia has again been suspended for failing a blood alcohol test. On Sunday 11 October 2018, Captain Kathpalia was grounded after failing to pass two mandatory breathalyser tests. According to Aviation Authorities this is not the first time Captain Kathpalia has lost his pilot’s license, saying that he was suspended for three months in 2017 after refusing to take a breathalyser test before commanding a New Delhi-Bengaluru flight.
On Sunday, Captain Kathpalia was scheduled to command the 2:45pm departure of the Delhi-London Boeing 787 Dream Liner Flight A1-111 when Delhi’s Air India Medical Service Department took his first breathalyser reading. Because this test showed positive for blood alcohol, Captain Kathpalia was given a second test following the mandatory 15 to 20-minute wait. The second test also showed positive for blood alcohol.
The Delhi-London A1-111 flight eventually departed at 4pm with a new commander at the controls.
In August this year the Indian parliament heard that, between the years 2015 and 2017, 132 pilots in India failed to pass mandatory pre-flight breathalyser tests. Suresh Prabhu, Minister for Civil Aviation, said that while most were first-time offenders and received three-month suspensions, 15 of these were repeat offenders and were subsequently suspended for three years.
Aviation rules strictly prohibit a pilot from consuming alcohol 12 hours prior to flying, and mandatory pre-flight blood alcohol tests are administered.
In a statement issued by aviation watchdog DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) it was announced that Captain Kathpalia’s licence privileges have been suspended from the 11th November for a three-year period, as per aviation regulations.
Captain Kathpalia, who is also the Director of Operations at the state-owned Air India, has stated that he will be challenging the test results and believes he is a victim of internal politics within Air India. When speaking with Reuters, Captain Kathpalia stated “It was 1:30pm and only a bloody stark raving alcohol is drunk at 1:30 in the afternoon”. Whilst saying he plans on contesting the breathalyser results, he also added that he doesn’t see how he can contest it because ‘it’s a rule and is meant to be followed’”.
According to Captain Kathpalia, the merger between Air India and Indian Airlines in 2007 has created a lot of animosity, with “everyone fighting with everyone”.