Air India Delhi-Moscow Flight Forced to Return as Pilot Found Positive for Covid-19 Mid-Air

Zeba Warsi

In a bizarre incident on Saturday morning, an Air India aircraft flying to Moscow was called back after the pilot tested positive for COVID-19.

The VT-EXR Air India Flight was on its way to Moscow, under the Vande Bharat Mission to bring back stranded Indians. Somewhere near Uzbekistan, the crew was informed that one of the pilots onboard has tested positive for Covid19 and they were called back immediately, as per protocol.

This was a ferry flight, so only the crew was on board, around 6 people. Sources say it was a ‘genuine oversight’ as the pilot’s COVID positive report was misread as negative in the pre-flight checks.

“It is believed to be a human error and as soon as it was realised, it was rectified,” an Air India source said. The aircraft landed back in Delhi around 12:45 pm, and was deep-cleaned and sanitised as per protocol. The infected pilot and the rest of the crew have been quarantined.

Before every flight, it is an SOP to conduct COVID tests of the operating crew. Only when the tests are negative, are they given clearance to board the aircraft. It was at this stage that the mistake was made and the pilot’s report was ‘misread’. Air India will be sending another aircraft to Moscow later this day.

Last week in a digital press conference, Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had confirmed that the government will try to start a good percentage of international flights before August.

While announcing the resumption of domestic flights from May 25, Minister Puri said that the decision on resumption of international flights is yet to be taken.

The Vande Bharat repatriation flights, however, will continue, but as of now, the ministry is focusing on the domestic operations. He further added that govt will be able to bring around 50,000 citizens back through special flights during first 25 days of Vande Bharat Mission.

The minister said that currently, they are going to observe how the domestic operations perform and then take the experience and learning from these flights in order to make a decision on international flights in the future.

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