Thanks to random breathalyser tests conducted on pilots at the Tribhuvan International Airport on Sunday, a tipsy Karnali Air pilot was detected with an ‘alarming’ level of alcohol content prior to take-off, that too on a rescue mission to the Everest region. Even last September, two pilots of the domestic airlines were detected with the same substance. In the present context, the pilot’s blood sample has been sent to forensic lab for confirmation because only after the results are known, action can be taken. But irrespective of the lab results, by grounding the pilot, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), has indeed averted a potential tragedy. Shockingly, the fact that breathalyser tests have been conducted only three times thus far in the country’s only international airport bears ample testimony to the callous attitude on the part of aviation authorities. After all, how can they allow the pilots to endanger the passengers’ lives? Alcohol consumption or drug intake is a serious violation of aviation rules and only strict penalty like cancelling their licences can deter pilots from such an irresponsible behaviour.
Unless CAAN strictly applies breathalyser tests on a routine basis, passenger safety cannot be ensured and chances of fatal crashes would always remain very high. One often finds the traffic police in Kathmandu conducting breathalyser tests on those riding motorcycles. And when road accidents can be reduced to a considerable degree, why can’t Nepal’s skies be made safer? CAAN would also do well to heed the experts’ suggestion of updating safety measures with regard to navigation and communication facilities besides upgrading the domestic airfields. Instead of relying solely on the breathalyser test, the authorities need to focus on all other matters relating to passenger safety. Compromise in this regard is unacceptable as it involves risking precious lives.