Set up medical panel to see if breath analyser test necessary during COVID-19, HC tells DGCA

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New Delhi, Apr 27 (PTI) The Delhi High Court Tuesday directed civil aviation regulator DGCA to set up a medical committee to examine whether breath analyser (BA) tests of pilots and cabin crew need to be conducted or blood tests would suffice as an alternative.

Justice Prathiba M Singh said the committee shall keep in mind the safety of passengers as also of pilots and cabin crew while deciding whether conducting BA tests would be advisable during the prevailing pandemic which has seen a surge in infections .

The order was passed in view of an April 27 draft order of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) which has decided that 10 per cent of flight crew and cabin crew members involved in domestic operations shall be subjected to random preflight BA test.

The regulator said that under the new testing protocol, which was a temporary measure and would be valid till May 17, air traffic controllers would be subjected to random BA test before commencement of duty at each station on a daily basis.

DGCA 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 directed that the committee shall place its report before the next date of hearing on May 5.

Meanwhile, DGCA shall implement the new protocols starting from Wednesday, April 28, the court said.

The order came on the plea by an association representing pilots of Air India seeking suspension of BA tests during the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.

During the hearing, the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) -- represented by advocate Adit S Pujari -- told the court that UV (ultra violet) sanitization of the BA test kit would not suffice as once a pilot breathes into it, the droplets would remain inside the machine and the UV light would not reach inside.

The court asked the committee to examine this claim made by ICPA as well.

It declined to give more time to DGCA to set up a committee, saying even if only 10 per cent pilots and cabin crew are subjected to BA test, the number of personnel at risk was huge and the issue needs to be examined at the earliest.

ICPA has sought suspension of BATs during the ongoing pandemic which has seen a surge in infections.

In March last year, the high court issued an interim order suspending BATs through the tube process for ATCs.

Subsequently, in September 2020 it had modified the interim order and allowed BATs 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 BATs, 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 Air Traffic Controllers' Guild (India) seeking a direction to DGCA and the Airport Authority of India (AAI) to temporarily suspend the BAT through the tube process to prevent further spread of the virus. PTI HMP SA