NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court has directed all airlines in India to "strictly abide" by the percentage of breath analyser (BA) testing mentioned in the April 27 order of aviation regulator DGCA and that no carrier should go beyond it for the safety of their pilots and cabin crew in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The high court issued the direction after it was informed by the DGCA that some airlines were testing more pilots and cabin crew than the 10 per cent limit set by the regulator.
Justice Prathiba M Singh also said that the court will not substitute its view with that of the medical committee, created by DGMS (Air) to examine whether BA tests could be substituted by blood tests to detect alcohol levels, which has said that blood alcohol testing was not feasible.
The committee also said it was satisfied by the UV sanitation method used by DGCA for the BA test machines.
While declining to interfere with the committee's findings, the court, however, called for an additional report from it on whether the BA test can be conducted in an open area so that spread of COVID-19 through the suspended particles or aerosols in a confined room can be avoided.
This query was posed by the court as the ATC Guild had expressed an apprehension that since the BA test is conducted in an enclosed space and the air blown into the equipment is released out from the other end of the machine, the droplets or aerosols of COVID may remain suspended in the air and could infect others who enter that room.
The court also asked the DGMS (Air) whether it approves of the percentages for BA test given in the April 27 order of the DGCA or should it be random for all categories of employees - Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs), pilots and cabin crew.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had on April 27 issued an order stating therein that 10 per cent of flight crew and cabin crew members involved in domestic operations shall be subjected to random preflight BA test.
DGCA had also told the court that undertakings are required to be furnished by flight and cabin crew that they have not consumed any alcohol or psychotropic substance in the 12 hours prior to a flight.
The court, in its order of May 4, also asked the committee "whether the cabin crew, ATCs and other personnel who have to undergo the BA test could be first subjected to a rapid antigen test and thereafter be made to undergo the BAT and whether the percentages need to be changed and if so, to what extent."
"Let a further report be submitted by the DGMS (Air) at least one day before the next date of hearing on May 11. In the meantime, the percentage of testing and other directions as contained in the order dated April 27 shall be adhered to by the airlines."
"It is again emphasised that all staff of the airlines, including ATCs, cabin crew and the pilots, would be bound to give the undertakings and the declarations, in respect of having not consumed alcohol in terms of the applicable regulations, failing which, they could be re-rostered and strict action would be liable to be taken against them," the court said.
The order came on the separate pleas by the ATC Guild and Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) opposing the conduct of BA tests during the prevailing pandemic.
In March last year, the high court issued an interim order suspending BA tests through the tube process for ATCs.
Subsequently, in September 2020 it had modified the interim order and allowed BA tests through the tube process on the basis of the recommendations by a medical board.
The board had recommended that one machine would be used per person and not again for the next 12 hours.
The court, while allowing the BA tests, had said that DGCA would be bound by the June 16, 2020 recommendations of the medical board.
The interim order of March 23, 2020 was modified on an application moved by DGCA.
The DGCA's application was filed in the petition by the Air Traffic Controllers' Guild seeking a direction to DGCA and the Airport Authority of India (AAI) to temporarily suspend the BA tests through the tube process to prevent further spread of the virus.