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Alcohol checks for flight crews: Delhi HC lays down strict protocols for DGCA

In so far as the testing is concerned as submitted by the counsel for DGCA a total of 6 persons shall be tested in 1 hour duration.

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The Delhi High Court today directed the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to issue comprehensive guidelines/order today itself, containing all the requirements and protocols to be followed in one document. This, said the court, should be communicated to all airports across the country and they should adhere to those strictly.

Justice Prathiba M. Singh passed directions on the following lines:

  1. All personnel should be bound to give an undertaking and declaration that they have not consumed alcohol in the previous 12 hours in terms of the DGCA regulations. The undertaking and declaration would be compulsory for all personnel.
  2. Following the undertaking are there will be a breath analyser (BA) test followed by a rapid antigen test, by a doctor paramedic present. All this will have to be completed before duty starts. This is to ascertain that these staff members do not have Covid, neither are they likely to transmit it asymptomatically.
  3. The BA test, as far as possible, will have to be done by the DGCA in a large room or an open area which has CCTV coverage. This would ensure that aerosol exposure is removed.
  4. The antigen testing will have to be random (ATC, pilots and cabin crew).
  5. In so far as the testing is concerned as submitted by the counsel for DGCA a total of 6 persons shall be tested in 1 hour duration. The testing equipment shall be subjected to UVCA radiation as per the protocol already prescribed by the DGCA which was considered by the committee appointed by the DGMS air.

The court passed the above directions after recording submissions of the Counsel appearing in the matter and disposed off all the three writ petitions.

The DGMS replied: “Ms Gosain appearing for the DGCA submits that an attempt shall be made to conduct the Breath Analyser test (BAT) in an open area as far as possible. Even in places where open area test is not possible it shall be ensured that the room shall be sanitised after every test and in any event not more than 6 person shall be tested in an hour. In subject to percentages she submits for ATCO the testing will be random, for pilots and cabin crew the testing will be random with the maximum of 8-10 percent. It should be the permitted percentage of the personnel tested. In so far as rapid antigen test is considered, the DGMS AIR is in the opinion that it may create longer waiting time and overcrowding hence the same may not be required. In accordance with the report of DGMS AIR, she further submits that DGCA itself is conscious of the interest of its personnel and passengers. Subject to the undertaking by all the personnel the testing shall be only as much as it is required and in terms of the DGCA protocols as submitted above.”

Mr Sanghi, appearing for the petitioner, submitted that the BA test ought to be conducted in an open area so that safety of the ATC can be taken care of.

Mr Pujari, appearing for the commercial pilots, submits that cap should be reduced to 5% instead of 8%. He also refers to the testing room of Surat airport as a photograph has been shown to the court today to show that the space available in rooms are very constricted and hence there is a chance of overcrowding, the DGCA should publish the revised protocol in a comprehensive manner for the duly adherence.”

The Delhi High Court had previously asked the Director General Medical Services (Air) to consider whether the breath analyzer test (BAT) can be conducted in an open area with mobile electrical connectivity so that the spread of Corona Virus through suspended particles/aerosols in a confined room can be avoided for the safety of the cabin crew, ATCs and pilots.

The court, on May 5, after hearing the counsel for the parties and considering the data, asked the DGMS (Air) to consider the following issues in compliance of its previous order dated 27th April 2021:

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i) Whether the BAT can be conducted in an open area with mobile electrical connectivity so that the spread of Covid-19 through the suspended particles/aerosols in a confined room can be avoided for the safety of the cabin crew, ATCs and pilots?
ii) Whether the DGMS (Air) approves the percentages mentioned in the order dated 27th April, 2021 or should the same be random for all categories of employees – i.e., ATCs, pilots and cabin crew?
iii) Whether the cabin crew, ATCs and other personnel who have to undergo the BAT could be first subjected to a rapid antigen test and thereafter be made to undergo the BAT?
iv) Whether the percentages need to be changed and if so, to what extent.

The court had asked the DGMS (Air) to submit a report by 10th May 2021 on the aforesaid aspect and further listing the matter for further hearing on 11th May 2021.

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