The air traffic controllers' (ATC) guild has requested Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his direct and immediate intervention to terminate the mandatory breath analyser tests for the air traffic controllers reporting for duty amidst the virus outbreak.
At present, only the controllers who have symptoms of illness are being exempted from the mandatory breath analyser (BA) test.
Fearing the closure of airports across the country due to coronavirus infections, however, the controllers' association wants a complete suspension of the BA tests until the pandemic is effectively contained.
In its letter, dated 17 March, 2020, the guild has written that the "Air Traffic Controllers’ Guild is the only recognised officer’s association of Indian Air Traffic Control Officers. We salute the way the government is dealing with the outbreak of the Novel Corona Virus in our country. Sir, in this context, we would like to inform you that the Breath Analyzer Test for our members was introduced 3-4 months back by DGCA. This is as per global standard to enhance the safety of our airspace.”
“We would like to inform you that in our every duty shift, people have to undergo BAT under this scary CORONA virus situation also. ATC Guild (l) had communicated the same to DGCA without any fruitful result. When Government Of India (GOI) had taken initiative to close the CORONA chapter in lndia in Stage ll itself the acts like BAT for officers may backfire.”
“ln fact (Government of India) GOI even banned biometric attendance and all state governments banned BAT for drivers, which are less dangerous than the BA Test of ATCOs. Anytime an air traffic controller can be infected by the deadly and highly infectious virus in a BA Test. lf only one controller got infected, the whole shift will get infected and the whole airport needs to be closed,” it says.
Requesting Modi to intervene immediately, the association said: “Sir, you can well understand the gravity of the situation. lf it is not stopped right now, it can even affect general public as well. We can assure you that our members know their critical duty and never come under the influence of alcohol."
"It is, therefore, requested to temporarily suspend the BA test for air traffic controllers in the national interest," the letter said.
On 6 March, taking note of the coronavirus pandemic, the country's aviation regulator, DGCA, had said in one of its orders that before carrying out the BA test on air traffic controllers, the medical personnel concerned will check the controller for symptoms of illness.
"If any person is detected with symptoms, the said person shall be exempted from BA test and removed from duty. Such person shall undergo detailed medical examination and shall return to duty only after having been declared fit. Records are to be maintained for all such cases," the DGCA order read.
On Tuesday, in view of the coronavirus outbreak, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) had also demanded the immediate discontinuation of the breath analyser test for train operators
Earlier this month, the government had also decided to exempt employees from marking their attendance on the biometric system over concerns that it could end up spreading coronavirus.
So far, around 150 people have tested positive for the rapidly spreading virus in India, while it has also claimed the lives of three people.