Mumbai airport
Aviation authorities have increased the frequency of surprise checks to avoid drunk staff on airside duties. Reuters

Surprise checks have revealed that there are a surprisingly large number of tipplers among airport employees including some working the airside beat, a report says. India's aviation regulator has been conducting breathalyzer (BA) tests to detect alcohol abuse during duty on airport staff, especially on those posted on airside duties, as part of a new set of norms, especially for airside safety.

Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) staff last week conducted surprise alcohol tests on some of the personnel as part of more stringent safety norms for airside staff, the Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) has said. The DGCA has made alcohol testing mandatory for all airside worker, a report on the LiveMint website said. The earlier practice was to put only pilots and cabin crew on breath analyzer tests to ensure passenger safety.

Commitment to passenger safety

The authorities have enforced compulsory BA tests for the staff of air traffic control (ATC), communication navigation and surveillance (CNS) personnel, technicians on aircraft maintenance, aerodrome operation staff, fire and rescue personnel, and vehicle drivers, including those of catering and refuelling vehicles, the report says. The BA verification procedures are applicable to ground equipment operators, ground handling personnel and flight dispatchers also.

At present, BA tests for the personnel are carried out at Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Cochin, Lucknow, and Guwahati airports.

DGCA sources estimate that the test is applicable to around 30,000 employees largely working on the airside of the airports

"Without prior notice, DGCA randomly selected ground staff for the alcohol test on November 15. It was conducted on 17 personnel and all of them were tested negative," MIAL said in a statement. "The negative result shows the airport's commitment towards passenger safety measures in compliance with DGCAs directive."

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The Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. The civil aviation regulator is cracking down on alcohol abuse by airside staff.Reuters file

The checks were made more widespread after 18 people tested positive to excess alcohol during a similar exercise across airports last month. Under the regulations, any person found positive in the BA test would be suspended for three months.

Randomly checked

DGCA sources estimate that the test is applicable to around 30,000 employees largely working on the airside of the airports. Out of these people, 10 per cent would be randomly checked for alcohol test every day. The DGCA has set December 31 as the deadline to implement BA tests at all commercial airports.

Aviation sources believe more stringent checks would be necessary as the country is on the cusp of an unprecedented aviation expansion through the UDAN programme of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Under UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik), which is a regional airport development and 'Regional Connectivity Scheme', the government's aim is to improve connectivity to such an extent that even common citizens could benefit. It is aimed at making air travel affordable and widespread. The government plans to develop airports in the remotest locations to bring them on the air travel grid.