Nearly two months after the urination incident on its New York-New Delhi flight, Air India on Tuesday said it has closed the internal probe into the case and will assist the flight's pilot-in-command with an appeal against the suspension of his license by DGCA as the airline deems the action as "excessive".
Last week, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) suspended the license of the pilot for three months, imposed a penalty of Rs 30 lakh on Air India and Rs 3 lakh on the director of the airline's in-flight services related to the urination incident that happened on November 26, 2022.
Tata group-owned Air India on Tuesday said it has closed the internal investigation into the actions of its crew operating and administrative staff supporting the AI 102 (New York-New Delhi) on November 26, 2022.
In a statement, the airline said it accepts that, notwithstanding the mitigating circumstances, based on the letter of the CAR (Civil Aviation Requirement) it did not correctly classify the incident and therefore did not report it as required.
"The crew and ground staff have been issued warning letters to henceforth adhere strictly to CAR definition of 'unruly' when reporting incidents onboard so that later investigation can assess the facts. The cabin crew and ground staff have been counselled and have since returned to duty," it said.
In light of the mitigating circumstances and the financial detriment already incurred by the crew during their period of de-rostering, Air India said it deems the license suspension of the Commander excessive and will be assisting him with an appeal.
"Air India wishes to acknowledge the good faith efforts made by the crew to handle the situation effectively in real-time when not all facts were available. It also notes that a contemporaneous written statement by a fellow business class passenger includes an explicit commendation of the actions of the cabin crew and that his criticism of the pilot was in the context of not having been granted an upgrade," the statement said.
On January 21, PTI reported that Air India's wide-body pilots' body Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) was mulling legal recourse and other options regarding the suspension of the pilot's license for three months by DGCA.
Giving a detailed account of the post-incident, Air India said the crew were approached by the complainant seeking assistance after allegedly being urinated on by a fellow passenger.
"In the absence of any witnesses, the crew took the complainant's allegation at face value and assisted her by providing fresh clothes, helping clean her belongings and relocating her to another business class seat of the same type as her original one. When awoken and confronted with the allegation, the alleged perpetrator was calm, co-operative and professed ignorance of the allegation," it said.
The airline also clarified that the accused passenger had not been served "excessive alcohol" by the crew and did not appear "intoxicated" to the crew.
It also said that the commander was kept regularly informed by the cabin crew.
"In the judgement of the crew, the alleged perpetrator posed no risk to flight safety at any time," Air India said.
Acknowledging that, in immediately taking the complainant's accusation at face value and providing assistance, it follows that the matter should have been reported as a prima facie case of a passenger "… behaving in a disorderly manner toward… other passengers".
The matter should have been classified and reported as such, without prejudice to any subsequent investigation into the facts, Air India said.
Noting that upon receipt of the voyage report, the airline said ground staff "did not challenge the crew's assessment" and, therefore, it also "did not report the matter as an unruly incident".
According to the airline, "based on the absence of witnesses to the alleged act, that the alleged perpetrator was peaceful, co-operative and claiming ignorance of the event, that there was no risk to flight safety and that a resolution had been witnessed between the parties, the crew made a judgement call to record the matter as an (non-reportable) in-flight incident rather than a (reportable) case of unruliness".
Further, Air India said that in the absence of witnesses to the alleged act, the crew were being asked to make a "presumption of the accused guilt which runs contrary to natural justice and due process".
In connection with the urination incident, the accused Shankar Mishra is in jail now.