The Delhi High Court has said that the conduct of breath analyser tests (BATs) for staff of Air Traffic Controllers, commercial pilots, cabin crew, and other staff members shall continue as per the guidelines issued by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in light of the status of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It dispensed for the time being its earlier condition mandating that only six such personnel can undergo the test in one hour.
Justice Prathiab M Singh passed the order taking into consideration the increase in air traffic and reduction in the incidence of cases and modified an earlier order on the issue following an application for modification by DGCA.
The court however refused to allow DGCA's request to permit the conduct of BAT tests as per pre-COVID protocols i.e. without the doctor and any other paramedic personnel on duty taking the Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) for COVID-19 prior to joining the duty in the testing area for administering BAT.
The court said that at this stage, RAT would continue to be mandatory as "the risk would be high if such a test is not conducted, and either the doctor or nurse turns out to be COVID-19 positive".
"However, considering the submissions made today, in respect of the direction issued in paragraph 13(5) of the order dated May 11, 2021, that only six personnel shall be tested in one hour is concerned, in view of the increase in air traffic and reduction in the incidence of COVID-19, as also, to ensure optimum utilisation of resources and reduce delays, the same is dispensed with, for the time being. The order dated May 11, 2021, is modified accordingly," the court said in its order dated September 8.
The court granted liberty to DGCA to move an application seeking any other modification at a later stage.
"It is made clear that the guidelines issued by the DGCA from time to time shall continue to operate. The conduct of BAT for staff of ATCs, commercial pilots, cabin crew, and other staff members, shall also continue depending upon the guidelines issued by the DGCA in light of the status of the COVID-19 pandemic," the court said.
DGCA told the court that on account of the reducing trend of COVID-19 cases and increase in the volume of air traffic as a result of the resumption of 100 per cent normal airline operations, it issued fresh guidelines earlier this year mandating that 50 per cent of the cockpit crew member and the cabin crew member shall be subjected to the random pre-flight BAT for the entire operation of an organization on daily basis.
It also said that various representations were received from several airlines requesting modification of the earlier directions of the court.
On May 11, 2021, the court had, on petitions by the ATC Guild and Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), allowed a limited number of ATCs, pilots, and cabin crew on duty to undergo BA tests and mandated compulsory supply of an undertaking that they have not consumed any alcohol or psychotropic substance within the 12 hours prior to a flight.
Concerning the procedure to be adopted for carrying out the tests, the court had said it would be held in a big and open space and the doctor and medical staff conducting the test would have to undergo a Rapid Antigen Test every day.
The court had clarified that no more than six persons would be tested in a span of one hour and prior to each test the BA machine would be sanitised by UV radiation.