Air India evacuation flights to UK, US delayed as COVID-19 test reports of crew members still awaited

By Ashoke Raj

New Delhi [India], May 6 (ANI): Air India's maiden evacuation flights to the United Kingdom and the USA have been delayed for a day as the COVID-19 test reports of the national carrier's crew members are still awaited.

Now, Delhi to San Francisco flight, which was earlier scheduled to depart on May 7, will operate from Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) on May 8 at around 3:30 am. Similarly, Mumbai to London flight has also been delayed by a day. The flight, which was earlier scheduled to depart on May 7, will now operate from Mumbai airport at around 6:30 am.

"Air India has adhered to the guideline issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs yesterday, making mandatory for the cockpit/cabin crew members to undergo COVID-19 test as required by the destination countries," said sources in Air India.

Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had said on Tuesday that the Air India would operate special flights for the evacuation of Indians stranded abroad, due to coronavirus outbreak, from several countries from May 7 to May 13.

Air India has deployed its aircraft for evacuation in line with the mandatory standard operating process (SOP) issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which stated that all crew members have to tested for COVID-19.

"They will travel to India by non scheduled commercial flights to be arranged by the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MOCA), and naval ships to be arranged by the Department of Military Affairs (DMA). Only those crew and staff, who are tested COVID-19 negative, will be allowed to operate these flights/ships," reads MHA SOP.

As per standard practice in medical sciences, it takes more than 12 to 24 hours for COVID-19 testing in India. The crew members are being tested for COVID-19 so that there is no doubt about their health.

The first flight of AI will operate from Delhi to Singapore on May 7 at around 23:15 Hrs.

"SOPs and guidelines have been issued by MHA and MoCA for crew members that all have to carry COVID-19 negative test certificate as per the requirement of the concerned countries. Air India is following the SOPs and guidelines very seriously but these delays are due to delay in COVID-19 report of our crew members," added sources.

Air India has deployed its several aircraft for the historical repatriation stranded Indians from various countries, for long haul flights such as the UK and the USA. The airline has deployed wide-body aircraft Boeing-777/787 and for the Gulf region, the AI has deployed Airbus aircraft.

Big aircraft means big deployment of the crew too. As an Air India official: "For B777/787 aircraft, we need to deploy 4+4, which means a total of 8 pilots and 8+8 total 16 cabin crew members. For the Airbus, 2+2, which means a total of four pilots and 8 cabin crew members."

Meanwhile, Air India's subsidiary Air India Express' first flight with 175 stranded Indians will land in Kochi from Abu Dhabi on May 7 at around 2140 hours. (ANI)