DGCA's move seeks to ban perfumes for pilots as they have alcohol and can affect the results of breathanalyser tests.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in a recent move has not come out smelling of roses.
A recent draft Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) of the DGCA has raised furore among pilots as it seeks to ban them from using perfumes.
While the DGCA is still seeking comments to this proposal, a perusal of tweets on this subject has shown that it has not gone down well with pilots.
While some have called this 'absurd', others have asked why the DGCA has such stringent rules when aviation regulators elsewhere such as the US' Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have more relaxed norms for alcohol intake and say nothing about using perfumes by pilots.
The DGCA proposal says that 'no crew member shall consume any drug/formulation or use any substance such as mouthwash/tooth gel/perfume or any such product which has alcoholic content. This may result into positive breath analyser test. Any crew member who is undergoing such medication shall consult the company doctor before undertaking flying assignment'.
According to the DGCA, 'the level of blood alcohol compatible with safe flying is 'Zero', which is also recommended by ICAO.' But ironically, in the case of the FAA and EASA, the level is lower.
The blood alcohol concentration limits for pilots, according to EASA 'should not exceed the lower of the national limit or 0.02%, which is 0.2 grams of alcohol per litre of blood, whilst performing duties related to operating an aircraft, including flight preparation'.
It adds: 'The breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) should not exceed the lower of the national limit or 90 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath'.
Further, it 'should not be consumed within 8 hours of performing duties related to operating an aircraft, including flight preparation”.
However, it should be noted that 8 hours 'from bottle to throttle' does not guarantee that the individual's BAC/BrAC will be below the above-mentioned limits.
'It is, therefore, recommended to abstain for longer than 8 hours, as appropriate, in order to take into account the quantity of alcohol consumed,' says EASA.
According to the FAA, 'Ideally, total avoidance of alcohol should be a key element observed by every pilot in planning or accomplishing a flight.'
It adds that employees are removed from performing these functions if their breath alcohol concentration registers 0.04 or greater on a required alcohol test, or if they otherwise use alcohol in violation of the rule.
It warns that the number of serious errors committed by pilots dramatically increases at or above concentrations of 0.04% blood alcohol.
In fact, the FAA suggests that pilots wait 24 hours from the last use of alcohol before flying.
'Cold showers, drinking black coffee, or breathing 100% oxygen cannot speed up the elimination of alcohol from the body,' says the FAA.
It also says that the average, healthy person eliminates pure alcohol at about 1/3 to 1/2 oz. of pure alcohol per hour.
This rate of elimination of alcohol is relatively constant, regardless of the total amount of alcohol consumed.
Even after complete elimination of all of the alcohol in the body, there are hangover effects that can last 48 to 72 hours following the last drink.
So why is the alcohol limit different for the DGCA and FAA and EASA? According to a tweet, the FAA has kept alcohol limit to 0.04 because this would not cause false positives due to mouthwash, perfumes, aftershave and fresh paint. And this is what is happening in India.
Pilots have been known to test positive for alcohol after even eating chewing gum, which contains 'sugar alcohol'!
While the DGCA has always erred on the side of caution, which is a good thing for passengers, it may have gone too far in its draft to bar pilots from using perfumes. But there is a reason for DGCA's stringency towards pilots drinking.
Recent data revealed by it show that in the first half of 2023, 33 pilots and 97 cabin crew failed their compulsory alcohol tests, which are conducted either before or after flights.
Contrast that with the data for the first half of 2022 -- 14 pilots and 54 cabin-crew members were intoxicated while on duty.
DGCA's CAR (Section 5, Series F Part IV) which relates to air safety has stringent instructions for the procedure for breathanalyser examination of personnel engaged in aircraft maintenance, air traffic control services, aerodrome operations, ground handling services for detecting consumption of alcohol.
It clearly says that even when the blood alcohol levels are zero in the body, there could be some effect of hangover, which is mainly due to congeners.
'Symptoms commonly associated with a hangover are headache, dizziness, dry mouth, stuffy nose, fatigue, upset stomach, irritability, impaired judgment, and increased sensitivity to bright light.'
Regarding equipment usage, the DGCA says that the organisation (airline) shall make available at least two serviceable breathanalyser equipment capable of giving accurate digital value up to three decimal places with a memory to store and recall at least last 1,000 records and should be calibrated after 10,000 blows/six months/at a frequency as recommended by the equipment manufacturer.
It further says that if the breathanalyser examination result is positive, a repeat test shall be carried out after an interval of maximum 15-20 minutes.
'During this time, the subject personnel may be permitted to wash his face and rinse his mouth, if desired.
'Before the second test is carried out, a control test must be taken with the same equipment. Both the readings so obtained shall be recorded and printout taken.
'The second test shall be carried out in the presence of a witness as designated by the organisation, who shall countersign the test report... Under no circumstances, third test shall be conducted.'
Punishment for failing these tests is lethal for the career of a pilot.
The CAR says that any pilot who tests positive on the first test shall have his/her license suspended for three months.
In case of a second violation, s/he shall be suspended for a year and a third violation shall invite suspension for three years. And after a fourth violation, the license will be cancelled.
While DGCA's dire warnings to pilots are in order, has it gone overboard in its move to restrict perfume usage among them? As one tweet said: 'The recent proposal to ban perfumes, mouthwash etc for Pilots is sure to raise a stink.'
Shobha John is a senior journalist.
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com