Air India pilot suspended over failed alcohol test | News | DW | 12.11.2018
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Air India pilot suspended over failed alcohol test

The senior pilot and director of operations had already run into problems with alcohol tests: in 2017 he received a 3-month suspension after allegedly refusing to take a breathalyzer test. He denies he had been drinking.

A senior pilot and director of operations at Air India was suspended for three years, after failing two breathalyzer alcohol tests.

On Sunday, before Kathpalia boarded his flight from New Delhi to London, he underwent the mandatory breathalyzer tests required from every pilot ahead of a flight. After having failed the first test, he was administered a new one after twenty minutes, which he also failed.

A spokesperson at the Directorate General of Civil Aviation confirmed in a statement that "the privileges of his license have been suspended for three years from 11.11.2018."

According to the job description of Air India's director of operations when Kathpalia was appointed in June 2017, his responsibilities included flight and ground operations, flight safety and training.

Kathpalia told Reuters he would contest the results and attributes his failure in the tests to internal feuds at Air India. Though he confirmed the tests showed his blood alcohol levels were higher than the legal limit, he denied he had been drinking,

"It was 1:30 in the afternoon, only a bloody stark raving alcoholic is bloody drunk at 1:30 in the afternoon," he told Reuters.

Not his first suspension

According to a court document, Kathpalia was suspended for three months in 2017 after allegedly refusing to take breathalyzer tests before his flight between Bengaluru and New Delhi.

In August, 2017 the Indian Commercial Pilots Association — a trade union representing Air India's pilots — filed a case against Kathpalia after his alleged refusal to be tested and for other behavior.

He claimed the 2017 allegations were also "a complete setup" and attributed the incident to scheduling problems rather than to his refusal to undergo the tests.

"Everyone is fighting with everyone" at Air India, Kathpalia said. He claims he is under attack because he is an employee of the original Air India, which was merged with domestic-route provider Indian Airlines in 2007.

"There is a lot of animosity after the merger. The animosity exists till today," he said.

The Japan Airline precedent

The suspension of the Air India pilot come just two weeks after Katsutoshi Jitsukawa, a co-pilot at Japan Airlines, was arrested in London after his alcohol levels were found to be ten times over the legal limit for pilots.

On October 28, the pilot had passed the in-house breathalyzer test performed by the airline, but had made a bus driver suspicious while he was being driven to his plane at London's Heathrow airport. Jitsukawa had reportedly been drinking heavily the night before his flight and was still over the limit the next morning. 

gs/msh (Reuters, AFP)