In the wake of an Air India repatriation flight to Moscow having to return from Uzbekistan airspace, back to the Delhi airport after the airline’s ground team discovered that the pilot had tested Covid-19 positive, pilots with several airlines have voiced their concerns regarding contraction of the virus from various means, primarily headsets which are re-used by pilots during their flights.
Pilots from various airlines have voiced their concerns relating to contraction of the disease from gadgets like headsets which remain stuck to their lips for communication while flying.
A senior pilot who is a Captain employed with a private airline, told The Statesman, on conditions of anonymity, “All pilots are now looking for individual headsets which are a vital gadget for pilots. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has not mandated the airlines to give individual headsets which are instead reused by pilots. This leaves pilots most vulnerable and defeats the purpose of masks, PPEs etc. since the microphones remain stuck to our lips.”
Highlighting the importance of headsets, the senior pilot said “It plays a vital role since a large part of communication during flight depends on it. Without it there will be no clear recording or communication between a pilot and a copilot.”
He pointed out, “Expecting the headpsets to be only sanitised, is an option which leaves room for immense doubt since one doesn’t know if it is 100 per cent sanitised and whether at all it can be sanitised since it is a delicate electronic gadget. Also, sanitisation depends on time since after a pilot has used it, the next pilot might not have the time to sanitise it because of a rush hour. One also cannot verify whether the last pilot who used it, has sanitized it.”
Asked what could be the reason behind DGCA not mandating it for airlines, the Captain said “There is a cost factor involved. Buying individual headsets might incur lot of expenses. At, present many airlines have asked pilots to buy their own headsets which can cost anything from Rs 15000 to Rs.78000 depending on the type but still there is no clarity on the matter.”
He added, “There is also an issue in procuring one’s own headsets since it may not be certified for use.” Commenting on what could be the solution, the pilot pointed out, “The DGCA must mandate it to airlines to provide pilots with individual and certified headsets of a particular type for all, clearing all room for confusion.”
Most pilots who spoke to The Statesman opined that the aviation sector maintains extreme caution to fly passengers safely to their destination but it must take steps to ensure health safety of pilots.
The aviation industry which has already taken a severe hit from business perspective, could further crumble if pilots begin contracting Covid-19. For airlines, the DGCA has however laid out rules that include all aircraft to be sanitised after each trip and at the end of the day.
Health check-ups of all crew has to be done regularly while “as far as practically possible, the same set of cabin and cockpit crew to be rostered together to prevent possibility of cross contamination.”