NEW DELHI: Reporting to work drunk would now mean more than just cancellation of license for pilots and cabin crew. It will now also invite anywhere up to one year in jail and up to Rs 5 lakh in fine for tipsy pilots and crew.
The aviation ministry's move by amending the Aircraft Act will make its recent change on punishing drunk pilots foolproof. It had two years back decided to suspend licenses of tipsy pilots caught drunk for the first time for three months. And commercial pilot license of pilots caught drunk for the second time would get suspended forever. This means, such a person would never be able to fly as a pilot ever again in any Indian carrier.
"However, there was one major lacuna in these stringent changes. Pilots caught drunk while reporting to operate a flight or those who came to airports in an inebriated state but fled after finding that breath tests are going on argued that their license could not be suspended as they did not actually operate a flight. Since they did not break any law, they argued no action could be taken against their license and that only airlines may take some disciplinary steps," said highly placed sources.
Realizing that this argument was blunting their "zero tolerance" on the issue of drunk flying - something that directly affects safety of passengers, - the government decided to make even an attempt to operate a flight in a drunk condition a legal offense with criminal culpability. The aviation authorities have now amended the Aircraft Act's rule 24 and now even those who are caught drunk at airport in pre-flight tests and then not allowed to operate their flight will now face a jail term of up to one year and fine of up to Rs 5 lakh. Pilots and cabin crew are not supposed to have alcohol at least 12 hours before operating a flight.
"There will be zero tolerance on safety issues. Indian carriers have been very lax in punishing drunk pilots and cabin crew as they used to just ground them for a month or two each time they failed the breath test. So the earlier rule to suspend license for three months and then cancel it for good if someone is caught drunk again meant that the issue no longer was a disciplinary one under airlines. The regulator got powers to suspend license and now the DGCA can take criminal action also," said sources.
In fact, sources say that after pilots, the government is going to crack the whip on airlines also who endanger safety by cutting corners in aircraft maintenance or changing of spare parts.