DGCA temporarily suspends breath analyser tests after Spicejet Pilot test positive for Corona Virus

NEW DELHI: Aviation personnel, including pilots and cabin crew, have been temporarily exempted from breath analyser (BA) tests in wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Sunday said this test is temporarily suspended at all airports till further notice.
The regulatory move comes after a SpiceJet pilot tested positive for corona on Saturday, after which pilots of Air India sought relaxation from this test due to fears that the apparatus used for the same could spread the infection. Pilots of other Indian carriers also backed this demand.
“.. due to the extraordinary circumstances in view of the outbreak of COVID-19 and also in view of the directions issued by High Court of Delhi and High Court of Kerala (for air traffic controllers), the conduct of breath aralyser test in respect of all aviation personnel as required under subject Civil Aviation Requirements in force is temporarily suspended at all airports till turther orders,” a DGCA order issued Sunday said.
“However every aviation personnel, who is reporting for duty, is required to submit an undertaking in respect of the fact that he/she is not under the influence of alcohol and that he/she has not consumed alcoholic/ psychoactive substance in the last 12 hours from the time of reporting for duty. The undertaking must also contain a warning that in case of violation of the undertaking, the licence/approval will be suspended for a period of three years,” it adds.
Airlines have been asked to conduct random tests. BA test is mandatory for flight crew. The DGCA clarifies this “direction/arrangement is purely a temporary measure in view of the extraordinary circumstances due to outbreak of COVID-19. The restoration of provisions of respective Civil Aviation Requirements on the subject will be reviewed from time to time.”
The Air India pilots had on Sunday written to the DGCA that the “machine/ apparatus for BA test remains the same, and that droplets/ aerosols of infected pilots may further infect the healthy.”
The appeal for suspending both pre and post-flight BA test was sent hours after SpiceJet said one of its pilots had tested positive for coronavirus. “One of our colleagues, a first officer, has tested positive for COVID-19. The test report came on March 28. He did not operate any international flight in March 2020. The last domestic flight that he operated was on March 21 from Chennai to Delhi and since then he had quarantined himself at home. As a precautionary measure, all crew and staff who had been in direct contact with him have been asked to self-quarantine by staying at home for the next 14 days,” a SpiceJet spokesman said.
While scheduled passenger flights, both international and domestic, are suspended in India till April 14-15 midnight as of now, airlines are operating special flights across India. The Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA, union of erstwhile Indian Airlines’ pilots), in its letter to DGCA chief Arun Kumar Sunday, had said Air India will operate 35 flights from March 31 to April 3, 2020, while seeking suspension of pre and post-flight BA tests.
“Continuing BA tests in these circumstances is extremely dangerous, As a responsible association which has demonstrably believed in the efficacy of the pre-flight and post-flight BA tests, all we ask is that safety of our pilots be considered by you and appropriate orders be passed… As pilots, we are ready to perform our duties proudly as and when called upon…. temporarily suspend BA test requirements for pilots,” ICPA general-secretary Captain T Praveen Keerthi has said in his letter to the DGCA.
“…we are ready and willing to give undertakings as and when called upon, and also for random urine testing…. As always, we hope for an urgent decision on our representation, prior to the flight scheduled to take off on March 31,” Captain Keerthi’s letter adds.
While Air India has been operating a number of evacuation flights, which started with flying Indians from corona-epicentre Wuhan in January-end, private airlines are also being roped in now.
On Sunday itself, IndiGo and SpiceJet operated a flight each from Delhi to Jodhpur to take Indians evacuated from Iran. These Indians flew to Delhi on Mahan Air, an Iran carrier, and from here were flown to be quarantine in army facilities in Rajasthan. Air India has mounted dozens of flights for flying in Indians stranded in corona hotspots like China, Italy, France and Germany to Delhi and it has also taken Israelis from here to Tel Aviv.
(The story has been sourced from a syndicated feed and has been published without any editing except for the headlines.)