Published: 03rd May 2021
High Court tells medical panel looking into the need for breath analyser test on pilots
The court asked the committee to consider the concerns of the ATC Guild and listed the plea on May 5 with a similar one moved by the Indian Commercial Pilots Association
The Delhi High Court Monday directed a medical committee, set up to examine whether breath analyser (BA) tests of pilots and cabin crew need to be conducted or blood tests would suffice as an alternative, to also consider the concerns of the Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) regarding the BA tests. The direction by Justice Prathiba M Singh came while hearing a plea moved by the ATCs Guild against BA tests in view of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic and seeking directions to civil aviation regulator DGCA to explore alternate protocols for testing.
The court asked the committee to consider the concerns of the ATC Guild and listed the plea on May 5 with a similar one moved by the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA). During the brief hearing, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) told the court that only random BA testing was being done where ATCs were concerned as compared to a fixed percentage of pilots being tested. The court said however that concerns of the ATCs be also considered by the committee.
It was on the plea by the ICPA that the high court on April 27 ordered the setting up of the medical committee. The court had said that the committee shall keep in mind the safety of passengers as also of pilots and cabin crew while deciding whether conducting BA tests would be advisable during the prevailing pandemic which has seen a surge in infections . The order was passed in view of an April 27 draft order of DGCA which has decided that 10 per cent of flight crew and cabin crew members involved in domestic operations shall be subjected to random preflight BA test.
DGCA had also told the court that undertakings are required to be furnished by flight and cabin crew that they have not consumed any alcohol or psychotropic substance in the 12 hours prior to a flight. The court had directed that DGCA shall implement the new protocols starting from April 28. ICPA had on April 27 contended in the court that UV (ultra violet) sanitization of the BA test kit would not suffice as once a pilot breathed into it, the droplets would remain inside the machine and the UV light would not reach inside. The court had asked the committee to examine this claim made by ICPA as well.
ICPA has sought suspension of BA tests during the ongoing pandemic which has seen a surge in infections. In March last year, the high court issued an interim order suspending BA tests through the tube process for ATCs. Subsequently, in September 2020 it had modified the interim order and allowed BA tests through the tube process on the basis of the recommendations by a medical board. The board had recommended that one machine would be used per person and not again for the next 12 hours.
The court, while allowing the BA tests, had said that DGCA would be bound by the June 16, 2020 recommendations of the medical board. The interim order of March 23, 2020 was modified on an application moved by DGCA. The DGCA's application was filed in the petition by Air Traffic Controllers' Guild (India) seeking a direction to DGCA and the Airport Authority of India (AAI) to temporarily suspend the BA tests through the tube process to prevent further spread of the virus.