Air India on Tuesday put a hold on the appointment of senior official Arvind Kathpalia, whose flying licence was suspended in November last year, as regional director of the northern region within hours of his appointment.
The flying licence of Kathpalia, who had served as director operations, was suspended after he failed pre-flight alcohol tests.
"Capt. Arvind Kathpalia will take over the charge of the post of Regional Director (Northern Region) with effect from May 1, 2019", consequent to the retirement of incumbent Pankaj Kumar, Air India said in an order.
In a flip-flop, the airline issued another order saying that the appointment has been kept in abeyance till further orders.
Sources in the civil aviation ministry said Air India decided to keep the appointment order in abeyance following directions from Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu.
Soon after the issuance of the appointment order, which drew flak from pilots' body ICPA, an Air India spokesperson issued a statement saying that the appointment of Kathpalia as director of northern region was "according to law".
The position of regional director is equivalent to the executive director, a post he held earlier, the spokesperson had said.
The Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), which represents pilots flying Air India's narrow-body aircraft, "strongly" condemned the appointment.
"Top officials are bending backwards to elevate a tainted official. He's been made in-charge of NR (Northern Region) where he will be able to intimidate people who had given statements in police enquiry. Disciplinary action against commanders come under Regional Director-NR. It's ethically wrong," it said in a statement.
A person who has broken the law and has charge sheet pending against him cannot take disciplinary action against other employees, the statement added.
On November 11 last year, Kathpalia 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 DGCA suspended his flying licence for three years, and on November 13, the ministry issued an order removing him from the position of director of operations.
A week later, he was posted as an executive director by Air India.
In February 2017, when Kathpalia was working at the position of executive director of operations, his flying licence was suspended for three months on charges of skipping a pre-flight alcohol test.
After being removed from the post of executive director of operations, in March 2018, he was appointed as director of operations.
Rule 24 of the Aircraft Rules prohibits crew members from partaking any alcoholic drink 12 hours prior to the commencement of a flight, and it is mandatory for him/her to undergo an alcohol test both before and after operating a flight.