The aviation regulator is likely to ground the Air India staffers in phases since taking them off the roster in one go will strain flight operations, a person familiar with the matter said. The government has been planning to shed some or all of its stake in the loss-making airline. No-frills carrier IndiGo has expressed interest in Air India, while airline operations firm Bird Group is also eyeing a stake in the debt-ridden carrier, whose liabilities are said to be over Rs 50,000 crore.
The aviation regulator, before deciding to act against the Air India staffers, had informed the state-run carrier’s management of air safety rules violation by some of its pilots and crew members, people with knowledge of the matter said.
The Air India spokesperson has not responded yet to queries sent by PTI on Monday.
“The DGCA already brought it to the notice of Air India management that its 132 pilots and 434 cabin crew have evaded the mandatory breath analyser test, which is to be taken both before and after operating a flight,” another person with direct knowledge of the matter said. “It is a safety violation and it (DGCA) is taking suitable action against these crew members,” the person said.
Apart from DGCA’s own safety regulations, airlines have made it a must for pilots and cabin crew members to take breath-analyser test before and after every flight. The staffers also cannot drink during the 12 hours before they are to fly.
In February, the DGCA had suspended the flying licence of Air India’s former Executive Director (Operations) Arvind Kathpalia for three months after an internal probe found him “guilty” of skipping breath-analyser test before a flight. Mr Kathpalia is now head of operations and a board member at Air India.
Crew members who test positive for alcohol in pre-flight medical tests or refuse to take breath-analyser tests should be taken off the roster for four weeks, according to aviation rules.
The DGCA’s records show 224 staffers of different airlines failed breath-analyser tests in 2016, and 202 pilots and crew members failed the test in 2015.