NEW DELHI: An Air India aircraft winging its way from Delhi to Moscow on Saturday morning had to be called back to Delhi from over Uzbekistan after the airline realised that one of the pilots onboard had tested corona positive. An oversight by the team checking pre-flight test reports of crew members had mistakenly read this captain’s positive report as negative and released him for the ferry flight (meaning with no passengers and only crew) to fly back Indians from Moscow.
The Airbus A-320 Neo (VT-EXR) returned to Delhi at about 12.30 pm and now the crew will be quarantined as per norms. This plane will be fumigated and the airline is sending another A320 Neo to Moscow later on Saturday afternoon to fly back Indians from there.
“It was a genuine oversight due to the massive amount of test results that need to be gone through. Delhi base alone sees testing of 300 crew members daily due to which more labs had to be roped in. The volume of tests has meant results come in an excel sheet now. The person checking the test result status of crew who have tested negative and hence are available for rostering cleared an A320 crew for the Delhi-Moscow flight,” said sources.
The aircraft without passengers took off on Saturday morning. Over two hours into the flight, another person double-checking the crew test result found that a pilot who had tested positive was mistakenly cleared for the Moscow flight. AI then took a conscious call, instead of trying to cover it up, to call the aircraft back from over Uzbekistan to Delhi.
AI has been operating hundreds of flights under Vande Bharat Mission. The government has made it mandatory for crew to be tested for corona before being allowed to operate these flights. AI crew, who are yet to get their flying allowance since March 2020 — which comprise over 70% of their total pay — are operating these flights as a “national duty”.
“It takes three months to start a new station (meaning start operating flights to a new city). Here we have flown or are preparing to go to nine new cities (including distant ones like Auckland and Vancouver) in a week. We are working under tremendous work pressure and unprecedented uncertainty. The fact that we are doing so with pay due for three months now only adds to the pressure. This is our condition. But we are not justifying what happened with the Delhi-Moscow flight. We are humans and had a genuine oversight, a mistake. We did not even think of covering it up and called the flight back to Delhi as soon as we realised the same,” said sources.