Air India top pilot failed pre-flight alcohol test, grounded

The loopy flight path of AI332

India's air safety watchdog on Monday suspended the license of a senior Air India pilot, who is also the carrier's director of operations, for three years, a day after he failed two breathalyzer tests before a flight to London from New Delhi. He was earlier grounded for a similar offence.

Airline officials said that Capt. Kathpalia was made to take the test twice and failed both times.

Meanwhile, another Air India flight, AI 332, from New Delhi to Bangkok was also reportedly forced to turn back less than half an hour after departure because the airline staff realised that the one of its pilots skipped his mandatory medical tests.

He said Kathpalia was handed a three-month ban in 2017 for skipping a mandatory alcohol breath test. A representative for Air India declined to comment. "When asked why she didn't tell me right then (earlier), she said something was wrong with the machine and it was taking time to register", Captain Kathpalia told NDTV.

Passengers on two global flights of Air India were left strannded on Sunday as one pilot tested positive in the breath-analyser test while another skipped the test, forcing the aircraft to return soon after taking off. He was removed from the post but later appointed director, operations, for five years. "Director, Operations of Air India was drunk before flight?"

Air India sources said Kathpalia was a repeat offender.

In August previous year, the Indian Commercial Pilots Association, a trade union representing pilots of the state-owned carrier, filed a court case against Kathpalia requesting stern action against him over the missed breathalyzer tests and some other behavior.

When he was promoted to operations director it was contested by the union in its petition to the court.

The 2017 allegation "was a complete set-up", said Kathpalia, who said it was the result of a scheduling issue rather than his refusal to take tests. The animosity exists till today.

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