Air India Pilots protest harassment of crew on “Vande Bharat” mission

The Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) has protested against the harassment and ill treatment that the crew of the Air India Airbus flight, bound to Moscow for an evacuation operation, had to face at the hands of the health officials at Delhi Airport on May 30.

The Air India flight was on its way to Moscow to bring back Indian nationals stranded there due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. It was forced to come back mid-away after the airline officials on the ground realized that the pilot of the flight was “mistakenly” given a “negative” report for the corona virus while he was actually tested “positive”.

According to the ICPA, the crew members were forcibly taken to a government medical quarantine facility, to be kept there for a period of 7 days. Only after the institutional quarantine facilities refused to accept the crew, they were allowed to go home to follow home-isolation for 14 days.

In a letter to Air India Executive Director (Operations), the ICPA, which represents over 700 pilots of Air India, has also sought clarity on the protocol that is to be followed in case a pilot operating Vande Bharat Mission or domestic flights is tested positive for COVID-19. In the letter they have pointed out that:

“… the crew of Delhi-Moscow flight on May 30 had a traumatic day after one of the pilots tested laboratory COVID-19 positive. The rest of the crew were made to wait the entire day without any food or refreshments.

“The health officials at the Delhi airport failed to comply with the government orders and the protocol to be followed for both the pre- and post-flight COVID-19 testing for crew operating Vande Bharat Mission flights was thrown out of the window. Hence, the crew was shuffled to multiple places aimlessly”.

The letter also points to flagrant violations in the COVID-19 testing and isolation protocol. It adds that: “… The post-flight COVID-19 testing was violated. On return, the COVID-19 testing was not carried out and they were also not accommodated in a hotel as per the protocol.”

According to the circulars issued on March 23 by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) of the government of India,  “If a laboratory positive case of COVID-19 is found in a flight, the entire crew has to be de-rostered for a minimum of 14 days. The crew needs to follow home-isolation during the time in their own country.” Highlighting this, the ICPA letter has further pointed out that though the MHA order of May 5 states that the standard operating procedure for movement of Indian nationals stranded outside the country requires RT-PCR test for passengers, this procedure is not being followed.

Strongly criticizing the insensitive treatment and harassment of the Air India flight crew by the government officials, the ICPA has pointed out that the pilots and other crew members are operating flights under Vande Bharat Mission as their “National Duty”. However, they are deeply hurt and angry at this ill-treatment. The ICPA has warned that if such incidents are repeated, they will refuse to operate any flights other than essential services.

This is yet another example that exposes the hollowness of the official propaganda that the government is committed to look after the workers in the frontline of the COVID-19 services and the well-being of the people in danger of being affected.

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