- Air India pilot was found having high blood alcohol content before flight
- It was the second instance of the senior pilot failing breathalyzer test
- Captain Arvind Kathpalia has been barred from flying for at least 3 years
Senior Air India pilot Captain Arvind Kathpalia was sacked from the position of Director of Operations on Tuesday, a day after he was barred from flying for at least three years on charges of failing an alcohol test before a scheduled international flight.
News agency ANI reported that the chief vigilance officer of the airline will carry out a detailed inquiry into the incident, besides the administrative and disciplinary aspects of Captain Kathpalia's conduct and how it would have impacted passenger safety.
The Indian Commercial Pilots' Association (ICPA), earlier today, had demanded the senior pilot's immediate termination because he was a "repeat offender who endangers the lives of passengers". Union Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu also asked the national carrier to relieve him immediately, sources said.
Captain Kathpalia was found to have unacceptably high blood alcohol content shortly before his flight from New Delhi to London on Sunday. This was the second instance of the senior pilot failing the breathalyzer test. In January 2017, he was grounded for three months for skipping the test before a flight.
In a letter to Mr Prabhu, the ICPA said the senior pilot's continuance in the top post amounted to setting a bad example for other cadre members. "The flight was delayed and passengers were left stranded because of Captain Kathpalia failing the pre-flight test," the letter signed off by association general secretary T Praveen Keerthi said, adding: "Kindly note that this is a repeat offence. The said incident resulted in extremely bad publicity to the national carrier... He has repeatedly tarnished the image of Air India and we request his immediate termination from the board."
Rules prescribed by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation prohibit crew members from having any alcoholic drink 12 hours prior to the commencement of a flight, and mandate alcohol tests before and after each trip.
The letter from the ICPA also pointed out that an inquiry against Captain Kathpalia in connection with operating flights AI-174 and AI-173 without undergoing breathalyzer tests was still pending as of January 19, 2017. "The Delhi High Court has ordered a disciplinary inquiry into the conduct of Captain A Kathpalia with regard to making an entry in the pre-flight medical examination register and ante-dating the same and to take appropriate action in accordance with law... However, to our knowledge, the inquiry is still pending till date," the ICPA letter said.
"While pilots in Air India are charge-sheeted for skipping the breath-analysis test, the company refused to charge-sheet Captain Kathpalia so as to facilitate his promotion as a board member," it alleged.
Captain Kathpalia's failed alcohol test was not the only controversy to hit Air India on Sunday. Another Boeing Dreamliner - AI-332 - took off for Bangkok from New Delhi only to be called back after it was found that the co-pilot missed his mandatory pre-flight breathalyzer test. According to airline sources, the pilot has been grounded for three months, during which he will undergo a "refresher counselling session".
The flight took off again at 8:40 pm, after a delay of seven hours.
(With inputs from IANS)