Dope testing is an essential step to ensure pilots are in the best position to fly and to protect the safety of the public. The Indian aviation industry has been busy this year to insure Indian carriers are maintaining an acceptable standard of safety all the time. Their latest moves involved the running of random drug testing.

Testing began on 31 January and turned up no alarm until late last week, when two pilots have become the first to fail the tests.

Crunch time

Some may be surprised that India’s aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), has only recently begun mandatory random flight crew and air traffic controllers testing for psychoactive substances.

From 31st January this year, the DGCA began random dope tests, which test for drugs such as amphetamine and amphetamine-type stimulants, opiates and metabolites, cannabis, cocaine, barbiturates, and benzodiazepine. All of which can have an impact on an individual’s ability to conduct their job, whatever it may be, correctly.

Those who fail the test (by testing positive) are to be reported to the DGCA within 24 hours of the positive test. A second test would also have to be taken for confirmation. Then, the DGCA will immediately suspend the individuals in question until a confirmatory report is received.

This is the fate the two pilots who failed their drug test faced, as confirmed by the DGCA:

“The two pilots failed the dope test in the last 4-5 days. Per protocol, their urine samples underwent a confirmatory test after the initial positive test. The samples were sent abroad for the confirmation test. Due to sensitivity and privacy issues and the stigma attached, the identity of the pilots and the two prominent Indian airlines they work for is not being disclosed.”

IndiGo A321neo
IndiGo is India’s largest airline by passengers carried and fleet size. | © livefromalounge.com

What happens next?

Considering the fact that this is the first time the two pilots have failed random testing, they are to be sent for rehabilitation. The two pilots will only be able to return to active flight duty once they’ve successfully completed their rehab programme, they produce a negative drug test and a suitable fitness certificate from their airline doctor.

If the pilots fail their test a second time following rehabilitation, the DGCA will have their license suspended for three years. A third offence would result in their license being cancelled.

Air India B77-200LR
Air India is India’s national flag carrier. | © airlinesfleet.com

Concerning trends…

The two pilots were the first to fail the DGCA’s random drug tests, but that does not mean concerning trends have not been cropping up as a result of general existing safety tests on personnel.

Between January and April this year, nine pilots and 32 cabin crew failed their pre-flight alcohol tests for the first time. It was, for the majority, their first offense so they were suspended for three months. For two pilots and two cabin crew, it was their second, so they were suspended for three years.

It can be assumed that there is a growing problem within the Indian aviation industry that will only get worse with time if not targeted and stamped out. Already, India’s total number of alcohol test failures is close to last year’s total of 59 – 19 of which being pilots.

Pilots in a cockpit
It is important for pilots to be alert and completely competent when flying without the disruption caused by drugs and alcohol. | © Blake Guidry / Unsplash

But India does already have one of the strictest alcohol limits for airline crew as the DGCA only accepts zero alcohol levels in the blood of pilots and cabin crew before a flight, and desires 12 hours between consuming alcohol and flying and aircraft.

This is stricter than the U.S Federal Aviation Administration, which accepts a maximum of 0.04% alcohol concentration in the blood or breath and recommends a maximum of 8 hours between consuming alcohol and flying (but prefers a 24-hour gap).

But airlines can impose their own rules – United Airlines wishes for their pilots and cabin crew to refrain from drinking alcohol at least 12 hours before work begins.

United Airlines
United Airlines operates a large domestic and international network. It is one of the major carriers in the United States. | © Reuters

The EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) says that blood alcohol concentration should not be above 0.02%.

What do you make of this troubling news from India’s aviation industry? Is there more that could be done? Comment below to share your thoughts.

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