Alleging "harassment" of cockpit crew by health officials at Delhi airport, Indian Commercial Pilot Association (ICPA), a representative body for the pilots of national carrier Air India, on Sunday warned that its members will stop flight operations other than the essential services if such "distasteful" treatment meted out to them is not stopped. It has also demanded clarifications from the airline on the safety protocols with regard to COVID-19.
In a letter to Air India Executive Director (Operations) R S Sandhu, ICPA has also sought clarity on the protocol to be followed by a pilot when a positive case of COVID-19 is found on domestic flights or Vande Bharat Mission, operating to bring stranded Indians home in light of pandemic.
The association alleges that "the SOP for movement of Indian Nationals stranded outside the country requires RT-PCR test for passengers. It has been brought to our notice this is not being followed."
Referring to the latest incident wherein a pilot on the Delhi-Moscow flight had to be called back shortly after take-off as it was learnt that he was COVID-19 positive, the ICPA said what the crew underwent after that was "traumatic". 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 were shuffled to multiple places aimlessly. The crew were harassed by the health officials at the airport," the ICPA stated in the letter.
On May 30, an Air India flight that was on its way to Moscow to bring back Indian nationals from there was forced to come back mid-away after the airline officials on the ground realised that the pilot of the flight was "mistakenly" given a "negative" report for the virus while he was actually tested "positive".
The letter directed to the executive director alleged that the pilots were being "forced" to be taken to a government medical facility for a period of seven days and that it was only after the institutional quarantine facilities refused to accept the crew, they were allowed to go home to follow home-isolation for 14 days.
"Not to mention, 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," the ICPA said.
"This can be construed as lack of coordination between Air India, Ministry of Home Affairs, aviation regulator DGCA and health officials at the airport," it said.
According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and DGCA's March 23 circulars, "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," the ICPA said.
Though as per the MHA order of May 5, the standard operating procedure for movement of Indian nationals stranded outside the country requires RT-PCR test for passengers, "It has been brought to our notice this is not being followed," the ICPA alleged.
"We are operating flights under Vande Bharat Mission as "National Duty" and the treatment meted out to the operating crew is distasteful. We do not appreciate the treatment perpetrated to our crew and if history repeats itself, we will not be in a position to operate any flights other than the essential services," the ICPA warned in the letter.
With PTI inputs