After the country’s air safety regulator made breath tests compulsory and introduced advanced measures to check the same, it was found that the number of pilots and flights attendants drunk in 2015 was the highest since 2012.
Figures from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) shows that number of such offenders was less in 2013, but in the year 2014 it saw a rise.
The list of offenders included senior commanders and cabin crew heads, said sources in DGCA .
The data reveals that the number of offenders fell from 183 in 2012 to 166 in 2013 and 144 in the following year but the number of such violators increased to 186 last year.
Officials said that in the month of January 2016, a Boeing Commander and a first officer with a private airline were grounded for three months for this offence.
Crew member found guilty of reporting drunk on duty in 2015 primarily comprised those who skipped the pre-flight breath check-ups.
“This is a new trend. They (crew) feel that by skipping tests they can get away. But our policy on this issue is clear. Even those to skip the test would be booked as offenders,” said a senior official from the DGCA’s air safety department requesting anonymity.
In past, such cases were reported very less in number as checks were not conducted properly, and devices which were used were not well-equipped.
An official from DGCA said that it will be right to compare the figures from the year of 2012 because 100 per cent checks were introduced for scheduled as well as private chartered flights from that year.
“Using of advanced handheld breath alcohol testers like Alco-Sensor IV were made mandatory,” said the official.
Officials believe that use of latest technology, and increase in checks is the reason behind the high numbers of such cases.
While some pilots said that post-flight checks were unfair, according to the safety regulator policy states that for the international flights originating outside India the breath checks should be conducted after the crew arrives in the country.
The regulator had faced criticism from independent air safety experts for relaxing the punishment for drunk aviators last year.
Before the amendment that came into effect in June 2014 repeat offenders would be benched for life. Now, their flying licenses are suspended for three years and those caught for the third time are grounded for life.
But a civil aviation ministry official said that India is facing an acute shortage of pilots particularly commanders. He said that harsher punishments could end up hurting the sector more.
On the other side, Indian carriers will now carry restrainers, like plastic handcuffs, to restrain unruly flyers to ensure calm, so that they remain on their seats till the plane takes-off safely.
An official of Jet Airways said the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has recently allowed airlines to carry restrainers (meaning plastic handcuffs) on board. An official said:
“The DGCA’s nod came in end-2015. We will have restrainers on board shortly and use them in the interest of flight safety as and when required.”
Airlines gave indications that they will be using this step when needed to curb the menace of bad and disruptive behaviour that threatens safety of aircraft.
IndiGo already had been carrying restraining devices – nylon ropes – on all its flights for some time now. Vistara, another plane service, did not specify whether it carries restrainers but said it takes “adequate measures” for tackling unruly behaviour.
Passenger behaviour has been a key concern for airline crew. Some passengers have been previously accused of misbehaving with female cabin crew members.