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Suspend breath analyser tests: Pilots to DGCA amid Covid surge

NEW DELHI: Air India pilots have requested the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to temporarily suspend breath analyser (BA) tests in the wake of surge in Covid-19 cases. The regulator had last March-end suspended these tests — conducted by blowing into a tube to ensure the crew is not inebriated — due to coronavirus following demands from pilots after one of them had tested Covid positive.
The tests were resumed last September with airlines asked to do random pre-flight BA for 10% crew operating domestic flights and 100% for international operations. This 10% was hiked to 25% on March, 2021, when Covid situation was improving.
But now due to the sudden and severe surge, the Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA) — union of erstwhile Indian Airlines’ pilots — on Tuesday wrote to DGCA seeking suspension of these tests. “…in light of this pandemic and the ease with which the disease gets transmitted, we seek a temporary suspension of the mandatory requirement for pre-flight and post-flight (BA) tests. Blowing into the apparatus for the purpose of the test inside small testing chambers leaves scope for contagion to spread,” ICPA general secretary Captain T Praveen Keerthi wrote to DGCA on Tuesday.
Indian pilots are upset that the authorities here have not recognised them and other aviation front-line workers for getting Covid vaccine on priority. Hundreds of flights crew and airline staffers have tested Covid positive, some have even lost their lives, during the pandemic.
“Despite operating critical evacuation flights disregarding certain risks, uncertainty, and in some cases even proper support from the operators, the authorities had failed to recognise flight crew as front-line workers, knowing very well the risks faced by crew operating flights during pandemic,” Captain Keerthi’s letter says.
“We sincerely hope you recognise that pilots in India are bravely continuing to fly aircraft despite such pandemic and only seek your indulgence to instil greater confidence in our pilots by showing them that DGCA cares for their health and safety during these testing times. We hope for an urgent decision on this representation,” it adds.
The DGCA is learnt to be examining this issue.
Some relaxations given in past few months when Covid situation in India was improving have begun to be withdrawn during the ongoing severe surge. For instance, serving or selling of meals on domestic flights below two-hour duration has been suspended due to fears that people taking off masks to eat could lead to spread of Covid onboard.

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