Air India pilot Arvind Kathpalia, who was suspended from the airline in 2018 for three years, was on Tuesday appointed as the Regional Director (Northern Region) of the airline. He will take over the charge on May 1.
Kathpalia was accused of violating aircraft rules, including evading breath analyser test, and forgery in 2017. Subsequently, he was suspended in 2018 for three years after he was tested positive for blood alcohol during a routine pre-flight breath analyser test before flying an aircraft to the US.
"Consequent to the retirement of Mr. Pankaj Kumar, Regional Director (Northern Region) after the close of the working hours of 30th April, 2019, Capt. Arvind Kathpalia will take over the charge of the post of Regional Director (Northern Region) with effect from May 1, 2019," it said.
On November 11 last year, Kathpalia had tested positive for alcohol in two breath analyser (BA) tests before he was to fly Air India's New Delhi-London flight.
The next day, aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) suspended his flying licence for three years, and on November 13, the Ministry of Civil Aviation issued an order to remove him from the position of Director Operations.
However, a week later, Air India posted him as Executive Director.
Objecting to Kathpalia’s appointment, ICPA – the union of Air India pilots – alleged that the top officials were “bending backwards to elevate a tainted official”.
“Top officials are bending backwards to elevate a tainted official. He’s been made in-charge of NR where he'll be able to intimidate people who gave statements in police enquiry,” the ICPA said.
“A person who has broken the law and has charge-sheet pending against him cannot take disciplinary action against other employees. ICPA strongly condemns this and will withdraw support. It's yet again proven, people with strong political connections can get away with any crime,” it added.
Last month, the Delhi High Court had said that Kathpalia’s laxity in taking a breath analyser test would not lead to the assumption that he was under the influence of alcohol when he operated a flight between New Delhi and Bengaluru in January 2017.
The court, however, did not agree with the pilot's contention that he was in a hurry to take the flight and due to shortage of time, he could not take the pre-flight breath analyser test.
Kathpalia had earlier submitted before the court that it cannot be presumed that just because he missed the breath analyser test, he was intoxicated. He had claimed he could not take the test as he was at work the whole day and was getting late for the flight.
He maintained that he voluntarily went for the post-flight breath analyser test after returning from Bengaluru, in good faith, but the doctor on duty refused to administer the test and only asked him to sign on a register.
According to the police, Kathpalia operated a flight from New Delhi to Bengaluru without undergoing the mandatory pre-flight breath analyser test on January 19, 2017. Further, even at Bengaluru he refused to undergo a similar test.
Later, on his arrival in New Delhi, he allegedly went to Pre-Flight Medical Examination Room and made a false entry in the Pre-Flight Breath Analyzer Examination Register for the flight he had operated.
Police had alleged that Kathpalia has also issued threats and intimidated Nitin Seth, doctor on duty, with a view to coerce him to retract his statement given in inquiry conducted by aviation regulator DGCA, where he had alleged that the Captain had manipulated the record in the register.
It was also alleged that there was violation of aircraft rules apart from tampering of evidence, coercive intimidation.
The high court had by an interim order protected him from any coercive steps while the matter was pending before it. The interim protection was extended by it from time to time.