The Air India senior executive commander who put the lives of over 200 passengers onboard a Delhi-Paris flight at risk by making a Boeing 787 aircraft climb beyond its safe limits had got into trouble in the past too with the authorities over his behaviour. The case has highlighted the need for airlines to develop an approach where such behaviour patterns among its pilots or even engineers and other employees whose jobs could have an impact on air safety are not overlooked.
Dr Harish Shetty , a psychiatrist, revealed that pilots seek help from psychologists and psychiatrists who are not empaneled with their airlines. “They avoid their official doctors. Quite a few are on psychotropic medications without the knowledge of their employers,” Dr Shetty said, making a case for mandatory testing. “The DGCA should make urine or blood testing mandatory for psychotropic medications and addictive drugs apart from alcohol screening. Surprise random urine tests should be carried out,” he added. “Depression has increased manifold and all groups are affected, every job place is vulnerable. High-risk professionals need to be assessed periodically like those wielding arms, motormen, pilots etc,” Dr Shetty said.
In the AI case, despite a number of cases which proved that the commander was given to sudden bouts of anger and erratic behaviour, the airline didn’t red-flag the matter till the April 28 “willful negligence” incident, when he had the Dreamliner aircraft begin a climb up to the altitude where it could stall. “Even after the co-pilot reported about the incident, the airline didn’t handle it seriously ,” said an airline official.