Captain Arvind Kathpalia, an old hand at Air India, is a management pilot and a board member of Air India. He is the Director of Operations and was earlier responsible for safety and training. He used to fly the Boeing 777s for Air India and now operates the Boeing 787s as well.
On one such flight yesterday, AI 111 from New Delhi to London Heathrow, the captain failed the mandatory pre-flight Breathalyzer test. His test reported a blood alcohol level of 7%, while the level of blood alcohol compatible (BAC) with safe flying is ‘zero’ as per ICAO.
A second test, 20 minutes later, confirmed that the pilot was indeed under the influence of alcohol. This time around, two witnesses were present for the second test per DGCA rules. AI 111 to London ended up leaving an hour late as another Commander had to be brought in.
If you look closely, just below Subject Test: Auto, besides the time, the BOC is printed. It is 007 in the first one (Arvind Kathpalia), 000 in the second (Nitish Kumar), 008 in the third (Arvind Kathpalia) and 000 in the last one (Anil Kumar Rana). DGCA’s guidelines specify taking an additional test in between, for calibration. That’s why two more people took the Breathalyzer test from the same machine.
Flunking or getting around the breathalyser isn’t new for Captain Arvind Kathpalia. He skipped the pre-flight breathalyzer test while operating a Bengaluru to New Delhi flight in January 2017, and refused to take the post-flight examination. DGCA had suspended his flying license for 3 months then.
Since yesterday’s test is the second incident, DGCA suspended Captain Arvind Kathpalia flying license for three years. This means, when he retires, his license will still be suspended. Air India is likely to remove him following this incident. Air India still hasn’t released a formal statement yet regarding the incident.
It is remarkable how such irresponsibility creeps into the cockpit. Aviation is a high-pressure job, but alcohol is not the answer. I’m genuinely disappointed in Air India for putting such a repeat offender in a high position.