India’s slow response to inebriated pilot problem- should there be a list of standards for all CAAs?

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Soon, Air India may conduct random drug test on pilots, other crew members

Pre and post-flight breath analyser (BA) tests are conducted by all airlines

India has had a number of pilots unfit for duty since 2014

FAA has audited DGCAI several time and found compliant

Should audits include pilot drug/alcohol testing, competence, fatigue?

Recent events have revealed that standards which the United States consider to be essential, like minimum hours for a pilot, are neither criteria nor points of emphasis for other CAAs.

The criteria used by the EU, FAA, ICAO and IATA to assess the competence of the world’s civil aviation authorities do not reach to determine whether these sovereign safety authorities have or enforce standards like testing for pilot impairment.

Perhaps such omissions can be excused for diplomatic or cultural reasons. These CAAs, after all, reflect the laws and social mores of other countries. Telling another CAA what should be permissible has tones of colonial superiority.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation of India has been audited by the FAA in 2014, 2015[i] and 2018. It currently is said to have met all of the audit tests in spite of the multiple reports of pilots flying under the influence; a sampling:

Air India fires senior pilot who was caught drunk before flight (11/18)

Scary! 10 Air India pilots caught drunk this year (10/18)

Air India Will Now Punish Drunk Pilots… But Only For The Second Offense (9/16)

High jinks: Air India pilot found drunk on flight to Kozhiko .. (8/16)

Here is the Business Standard article on the recent voluntary action of Air India and the DGCA’s “standard”:


In a first for Indian carriers, Air India is likely to start random drug tests on its pilots and cabin crew. Crew members who are found to have a drug abuse problem could be barred from operating flights till they completely give the same up for good. “There is no specific regulation monitoring drug testing… It is recommended that (AI’s) medical department is asked to devise a process for doing random testing for drugs as a safety initiative…” says a note titled “safety recommendations for psychoactive substances” sent by the airline’s ED and chief of flight safety, Harpreet A De Singh, to AI chairman and other top officials.

A senior airline official told TOI, Air India is planning to take this up as a “pioneering” effort to enhance flight safety in India.

According to DGCA’s ‘General Safety Conditions’ circular, the clause titled, “prohibition on consumption of intoxicating and psychoactive substances”, states, “no pilot, commander, navigator, engineer, cabin crew or other operating members of the crew shall have taken or used any alcoholic drink, sedative, narcotic or stimulant drug or preparation within twelve hours of the commencement of the flight or take or use any such preparation in the course of the flight, and no such person shall be in a state of intoxication or have detectable blood alcohol whatsoever in his breath, urine or blood alcohol analysis.”

[just for illustration]

Pre and post-flight breath analyser (BA) tests are conducted by all airlines. A pilot is grounded for three months, three years and forever after failing pre-flight BA test for the first, second and third time, respectively. Those failing the breath analyser tests in post-flight checks get a year added to these groundings.”

The point is not to single out India, rather to question whether there are essential criteria—experience, training, drug and alcohol testing, pilot fatigue, minimum aircraft equipment and most difficultly, the effectiveness of surveillance/enforcement.

Should the US and/or ICAO set such granular standards to use in assessing CAAs’ competence? Including such audit points in the checklist would be a sea change from existing requirements, but the average international traveler has reasonable expectations for relevant safety measures.  Clearly there are limits to what can be imposed, but it may be advisable to try to define such a set.

[i] The Category 1 classification was granted, uniquely, on 4 conditions. Sec. Foxx delivered the new status.


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1 Comment on "India’s slow response to inebriated pilot problem- should there be a list of standards for all CAAs?"

  1. Sandy Murdock | June 13, 2019 at 10:50 am | Reply

    Japan, too!!! JAL will PUNISH pilots for drinking and flying
    Under the legislation, which will take effect in stages within one year of its official announcement, the penalty for drinking and flying has been raised from a maximum one-year jail term or ¥300,000 fine to a sentence of up to three years or a ¥500,000 fine.

    Japanese airlines have already tightened drinking rules, introducing mandatory Breathalyzer tests and relieving pilots of their duties if even a very low level of alcohol is detected. Those flying private planes, however, are not subject to the same checks

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