How safe is flying in India?

June 25, 2008

rtr1pgsg.jpgSometime ago a passenger in the United States was off-loaded when she jokingly asked the cabin crew if the pilots were sober.

But as a frequent flier I wonder if it’s an impertinent question to ask Indian pilots.

Why? Sample this: Around 50 pilots each year in India are grounded because they had consumed alcohol before flying, the country’s civil aviation authorities say.

This year around 20 pilots have already been grounded for a brief period.

As if pilots who love their bottle were not enough, last week we had a gaggle of monitor lizards, jackals and birds saunter on the Delhi airport runway, delaying around 100 flights.

And not to speak of mid-air near-misses that we keep reading about in newspapers because of cramped airspace, lack of runways and increasing air traffic.

Then there is poor maintainence of aircraft that result in frequent flight cancellations.

A pilot friend says he often gets requests from his company to fly at extremely short notice. “I have often refused if I am partying and they ask me to fly out of turn,” he told me.

But wait there is more.  Forget flying, earlier this month, a Ukrainian tourist found out how unsafe was walking, when his father died after he was hit from behind by a bus carrying crew members inside New Delhi’s airport.


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Alcohol (ab)use before flying leads to grounding of 50 pilots each year… I think, the number is a clear indication that we are moderate drinkers.. Can we have the corresponding figure for countries with much highewr per capita alcohol consumption???

Posted by Devadeep Purohit | Report as abusive

Now that jet fuel prices have peaked and carriers find it profitable to ground aircraft than flying them, pilots can afford to float in alcohol for a while.

Posted by Ghatotkach | Report as abusive

There should be a law to imprison since on them depends life of 100’s

Posted by debjoy | Report as abusive

It is very irresponsible of the pilots indulging in such practices and it stresses the need for strict testing mechanisms to be implemented. It is upto the airline companies to be proactive and come up with stringent measures to prevent pilots under the influence of a whole host of substances or react to the wrath of the public when someone sues them for this irresponsible behavior. There is a lot to be done to bring Indian aviation industry on par with global standards and this seems to be the lowest hanging fruit.

Posted by Kautilya | Report as abusive

It seems like the incoming flow of wealth has turned Indians into foolish spenders. Instead of becoming more competitive and trained in global market, they are planning to be losers by comsuming alcohol on the job. In rest of the world, people are fired from job if they drink on the job.

Posted by S.M. Bawa | Report as abusive

As an American airline transport rated pilot, and also one who wants to visit India, this really bothers me. In-country airlines must have better crew training and emphasis upon responsibility to their passengers.

Posted by Marguerite ORiorden | Report as abusive

This is a ripple effect of “India rising…” :)
This year the number will more.

Posted by Rohan | Report as abusive

very safe.. till the next crash!

Posted by Anil | Report as abusive

very good article. you have missed that two pilots slept in a mumbai-jaipur flight and headed for goa! they were woken up by atc and corrected their path.

Posted by c k nayak | Report as abusive

The point is the passengers whose lives are being risked by these reckles pilots have no say in the whole matter.
The responsibility lies as much with the airlines as the errant pilots. Passengers should have the right to sue an airline whose pilots exercise such highly irresponsible and outright dangerous behaviour.

Posted by xanadu resident | Report as abusive

Hi, if you had included how the scene is in other more advanced countries, it would have been more comprahenssive. Iam sure there will be such incidents abroad too. Can’t blame the Pilots alone, management should be included for pushing Pilots behand their limits.

Posted by ravi | Report as abusive

The pilots should be banned for lifetime for being irresponsible and putting lives of hundreds of people at risk. Also, the page 3 Civil Aviation minister should take some time out and give attention to all the ‘near-miss’ incidents before its too late.

Posted by raj | Report as abusive

partying between stops? Don’t party too much or you will end up with HIV like many truck drivers in India. Maybe it is time some of these pilots are fired and ones with better judgment are put in their place.

Posted by Rami | Report as abusive

We all are blaming pilots and not even looking into the problem of mismanagement. Agreed that its criminal to consume alcohol or whatever shit on duty, but have you noticed the way pilots have been treated. Times of India ran a story on this, and that explains how pilots are asked to fly in the morning even if they flew just late last night. Alongwith the irresponsibility of pilots, treatment of pilots should also be taken into account when you talk about unsafe Indian skies. A tv news story recently revealed how an old man died, when his roof fell over his head in a slum close to the airport in Bombay. Why? It was so close to the airport that the sound was enough to bring it down and end that man’s life. Shouting ‘worldclass airports’ is not enough, we want safe, well managed airlines and some rare trait called ‘common sense’ in the heads of the concerned.

Posted by Anurag kotoky | Report as abusive

I think maybe requiring those devices that you have to blow into to start the plane–just kidding–but if they don’t have enough inspectors and the pilots seem not to realize the extreme hazard to everyone involved in FUI (flying under the influence)…there should be some safe solution.

Posted by Jessea Marie | Report as abusive

Indian pilots are facing same problems as Indian truck drivers. All flight operators in India using outdated aircrafts. I believe Indian pilots can’t fly old and unfit aircraft without alcohol. Alcohol is giving them some mental peace, patience and strength. Without alcohol they can’t wait for delay landing in the sky.

Posted by A.Y. | Report as abusive

Can’t believe such naive and lacking in ‘real’ details articles appear on Reuters…

Wanna know how people become journalist these days.

Posted by Pacific Blue | Report as abusive

Because of inconvenient flight times, reporting times in hours, travelling time to/from airports on congested roads, several hours between interchange, cancellations to/from ‘low priority’ destinations and frequent delays I prefer to use Indian Railways. The railways may take a little longer but are more reliable and I arrive less stressed; and you are less likely to be run over by a truck carrying the crew to the engine.

Posted by Kanti | Report as abusive

Apathy – A single word to define the prevailing community mindset TODAY.

Now remember this is NOT how India has been for millenia. Communal empathy, societal well-being and a keen desire for common good have been the hallmarks of being Indian. How that has all changed!

Whether its personnel at airport, the clerks at a govt office or just about anyone, the common denominator of APATHY that runs deep is painfully true.

Its time that Indians around the world acknowledge that the “chaltha hai” attitude that drives APATHY be rejected one Indian at a time. We can do it, there is no doubt about it.

Posted by NY Sharma | Report as abusive

I recently flew to Inida and had no problems with flying to and from there. In fact I flew Indian airlines Jet, and was really impressed with the aircraft seating and service. Ironically the worst experience on the way back was with United – an American airline – which was horrible and continues to get worse. See my detailed analysis here : ying-united-terrible-experience.html

With so many fliers in Inida there is bound to be incidents, but let’s look at other parts of the world before throwing stones.

Posted by AndyS | Report as abusive

I do frequently fly between various Indian cities. And have used most of the budget airlines that are on offer. Never once have I faced any serious problems. The service has been decent and 9 out of 10 times the flights are on time. At the airports the checkin and security clearance is also hassle free.
I totally disagree with the article that flying has become unsafe in India. The writer has also not taken into consideration, the kind of pressures the pilots are subjected too these days.
Also just look at domestic flying within the U.S. for example, which is the most developed country. Indian air companies will get better marks for sure.

Posted by Nachiketh | Report as abusive

I am going to India. I want to fly from dehli to goa. Can you tell me which airline is the safest and the best to take. Oliver

Posted by Oliver simmons | Report as abusive


Makes sense!…

Posted by homesecurity | Report as abusive

driveway alarms…


Posted by driveway alarms | Report as abusive

alarm system wireless…

Great post!…

Posted by alarm system wireless | Report as abusive