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AI pilot arrested in Sharjah for reporting drunk

NEW DELHI: An Air India commander was reportedly arrested in Sharjah on Saturday for turning up drunk to operate a long-haul flight to Delhi via Kochi. Flight AI 934, with 120 passengers, finally took off at 4.35pm, more than three hours past the scheduled time, after AI managed to find a replacement to fly the Airbus A-320.

"The commander was waiting in the security check queue. The staff reportedly found him reeking of alcohol. He was told to undergo a breath analyser test and was found to be high. He was then arrested," said a source.

An AI spokesman said, "The captain was not found fit to fly in Sharjah. He has been detained there. We are probing why he was found unfit to operate the flight."

Following a relaxation in rules last year, a pilot in India loses his or her licence only when caught flying inebriated for the third time.

While Air India faces embarrassment over one of its pilots being detained in UAE for reportedly turning up drunk to work, the commander may be in serious trouble. Pilots said unlike India, where the DGCA last year diluted punishment for reporting to work in an inebriated state, UAE has very strict rules.

A pilot in India now loses his/ her licence only when caught flying in an inebriated state for the third time. Earlier, the pilot stood to lose the licence on the second instance, as per rules set down by former DGCA chief Nasim Zaidi. While the action against crew for such an offence remains licence suspension for three months, punishment for subsequent offences were watered down last summer in the dying days of UPA-II.

Before this dilution, pilots would have their licence suspended for three months when caught drunk for the first time at work. On a second offence, his or her flying licence would be suspended for five years. This effectively meant an end to the pilot's flying career as they would have to begin from scratch after five years a virtually impossible task.

"In case of a repeat violation....the licence/approval of the crew member shall be suspended for a period of three years. In case of a second repeat violation... the licence/approval of the crew member shall be cancelled," the DGCA's current civil aviation requirement for "action on positive tests" says.

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