NEW DELHI: After SpiceJet stated on Sunday that one of its pilots has tested positive for COVID-19, an Air India pilots union requested aviation regulator DGCA to temporarily suspend breath analyser (BA) test as it can lead to spread of infection.
Referring to the Spicejet pilot's case, a letter by Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) stated that "continuing BA Tests in these circumstances is extremely dangerous" as the machine for the test remains the same and droplets or aerosols of infected pilots may infect the healthy. The BA test involves blowing into a machine to check alcohol content.
All flight crew are subjected to mandatory BA tests prior to operating a flight and post the flight in case pre-flight test is not possible, according to the rules. ICPA represents Air India pilots who fly domestic flights and short-haul international flights.
"As a responsible association which has demonstrably believed in the efficacy of the Preflight and Post Flight BA Tests, all we ask is that the safety of our pilots be considered by you and appropriate orders be passed," the letter said.
The ICPA's letter, signed by its General Secretary Captain T Praveen Keerthi, stated that as per Air India's schedule, there are as many as 35 special flights between March 31 and April 3. "I state on behalf of the association that we are ready and willing to give undertakings as and when called upon, and also for random urine testing," Keerthi said.
He also said the Directorate General of Civil Aviation's (DGCA) last order, issued on March 24, "pays scant regard to the fact that the machine/apparatus for BA Test remains the same, and that droplets/aerosols of infected pilots may further infect the healthy".
With India under a 21-day lockdown till April 14 to curb the spread of coronavirus, all domestic and international commercial passenger flights have been suspended for this period. However, carriers such as Air India, IndiGo and SpiceJet have been permitted by the DGCA to fly special flights to transport test kits, medicines, relief material and Indians coming from abroad for quarantine.
In a letter to the DGCA on March 20, the ICPA had made a similar request for BA test exemption. Another Air India union, Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), which represents pilots of the airline flying long-haul international flights, had written a letter to the DGCA with a similar request this month.
Earlier in the day, SpiceJet said one of its pilots who did not fly any international flight this month tested positive for COVID-19 on March 28. "The last domestic flight that he operated was on March 21 from Chennai to Delhi and since then he had quarantined himself at home," a SpiceJet spokesperson said.
A total of 979 people have tested positive for coronavirus in India and it has claimed 25 lives so far, according to the Union Health Ministry.