Hello, Your Captain Is Pickled
Outlook|November 19, 2018
Hello, Your Captain Is Pickled

Alcohol is banned for Indian pilots, but no tests abroad can let a drunken aviator off the hook.

Jeevan Prakash Sharma

YOU are more than a mile high and midway—snug in your window seat and sipping the trusty airline’s Chardonnay or piping hot Robusta. London is just an in-flight movie away. Suddenly the plane’s tannoy pings and a woozy voice rises above the jet-engine drone.

“Hello, this is your co-pilot. Please fasten your seat belts and remain seated. We, uh, seem to be experiencing a little turbulence. Your captain...perhaps he had had a lil drop (hic), er, whiskey.”

This scenario, as absurd as it sounds, replicates a flyer’s worst nightmare—a tipsy pilot flying a planeload of passen­gers and crew. Don’t panic yet, the odds are one in one hundred thousand that a professional pilot will endanger yours and his life by flying under the influence. Besides, the aviation industry and its regulators have placed sufficient checks to keep the captain off the cockpit unless he is sober.

In India, drink driving is a penal offence not only for motorists and bikers, but also for pilots flying domestic airlines as well as those on international routes. The rules set for passenger safety by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the nation’s civil aviation regulator, are amply clear. It says “level of blood alcohol com­ patible with safe flying is zero”, and no pilot can take “any alcoholic drink, sed­ative, narcotic or stimulant drug preparation within 12 hours of the commencement of the flight”.

Also, it reminds of the inherent dan­gers of flying with a hangover because the ill­effects of a large shot of whiskey or binge drinking could continue for up to 36 hours. Alcohol, even in small quantities, jeopardises flight safety. That’s the bottom line.

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November 19, 2018