Addressing a press briefing on Thursday, Air India CMD Rajiv Bansal revealed that the national carrier had entered into a contract with 4 countries- Germany, Canada, France, and Ireland. According to this agreement, a total of 18 one-way flights will be operated on a commercial basis to these countries whereby foreign nationals can leave India. The flights will come back to the country with no passengers on board. Currently, all the domestic and international flight operations have been suspended till April 14.
This decision was taken after a few countries requested assistance in repatriating their citizens from India. Moreover, he mentioned that China had given the approval to operate freight flights to Shanghai on April 4 and 5. At this juncture, Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri added that Indians stuck abroad will have to wait for the end of the lockdown.
Air India CMD: Entered into contract with Germany, France, Ireland and Canada to repatriate their citizens on commercial charter flights— Press Trust of India (@PTI_News) April 2, 2020
The Air India CMD also mentioned that complete protection had been provided to their cockpit crew, cabin crew and ground staff. Additionally, he hailed the role of the medical team. While acknowledging that some members of the ground staff fell ill, he stressed that they had tested negative for the novel Coronavirus.
On Wednesday, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) granted permission for the passenger category aircraft to be used for cargo operations. There has been a demand for transporting essential commodities and medical equipment in the wake of the nationwide lockdown imposed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this permission is subject to conditions specified by the DGCA.
For instance, requisite approval from Flight Standards and Airworthiness directorate must be sought. Dangerous items, such as lithium batteries and oxygen canister will not be allowed on board. Cargo will be permitted only in the approved stowage locations such as closets and overhead stowage bins. Also, the cargo should neither interfere with the closing and latching of the compartment nor should it prevent impede an emergency evacuation.