I’d like to think that most airlines take safety very seriously. Unfortunately I can’t say that I get that vibe from Air India. There are stories about the completely unacceptable things their pilots do all the time, and it seems like management does little to punish them.
For example, in 2015 I wrote about how an Air India captain was caught showing up to work drunk for the third time (and who knows how many times he showed up drunk and wasn’t caught).
At the time this got a lot of bad press, so Air India was forced to act. Their solution? That they would start “heavily punishing” pilots who are caught drunk… but only starting with the second incident.
Now there’s an incident that’s even more unbelievable, as reported by Reuters.
A senior Air India captain wasn’t allowed to operate a flight today from Delhi to London after he failed two breathalyzer tests.
That’s bad enough. Even worse? This captain, Arvind Kathpalia, is also on the board of the airline, and is director of operations for Air India, which means he has the responsibility for overseeing flight safety and training.
Kathpalia says he will be contesting the results because they were “related to internal feuding within the state-owned company.” He said:
“It was 1:30 in the afternoon, only a bloody stark raving alcoholic is bloody drunk at 1:30 in the afternoon. I am going to contest this.”
This isn’t the first time he has been in a situation like this. In January 2017 he was suspended for three months for refusing to take breathalyzer tests before and after his flights. And somehow he still got promoted to director of operations after that. Here’s a news story about that incident at the time:
At least that’s one side of the story. The other side of the story is that Kathpalia claims this is all a setup, and that he’s under attack because he is an employee of “the original Air India,” while the union is from Indian Airlines, and the two airlines merged in 2007. He said:
“There is a lot of animosity after the merger. The animosity exists till today. They refuse to acknowledge each other.”
So yeah, the accusations are pretty serious here. Given the stories we hear from Air India I wouldn’t be surprised if the accusations are true. At the same time, the airline is also known for quite a bit of corruption, so I don’t think it’s completely inconceivable that these tests have somehow been tampered with.
So yeah, I’m not sure what to believe here. Is it more likely that there’s just gross incompetence and a lack safety culture at Air India, or corruption? What a situation…
(Tip of the hat to View from the Wing)