Even as the stranded Indians benefitted from the government Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) flights during the pandemic, the national carrier lost 19 ground staff due to Covid-19 and other complications. In a reply to Lok Sabha, the civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri said that a total of 1,995 Air India personnel, including the crew deployed on VMB, were tested positive for Covid-19 till February 1. Out of these infected personnel, some 583 personnel were hospitalised, but there have been no fatalities reported among the crew members.
The international travel restrictions imposed on March 25 made it challenging for the stranded Indians overseas to return to the country. In April, following their requests, the civil aviation ministry started the international repatriation flights under VBM. Almost all domestic carriers like Air India, IndiGo, SpiceJet, GoAir, Vistara and others started flying under VBM based on the schedule prepared by the ministry.
The minister also told the lower house that the Covid-19 tests for the crew are undertaken as per SOP (standard operating procedures) issued by Air India's medical department which is in line with the government's guidelines for such tests.
So far, over 2.21 million passengers have been repatriated by Air India Group alone across eight phases in a total of 16,306 flights. The ninth phase of VBM has just concluded that covered 24 countries such as Australia, Canada, US, Japan, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Singapore, and others.
Not just that. Domestic airlines are also flying on international routes under the "transport bubbles" arrangements between India and other countries. The primary objective of these bubble flights is to restart commercial passenger services when regular international flights are suspended during pandemic. So far, India has made arrangements with 25 countries including the US, the UK, Japan, Germany, UAE and others.
Ratings agency ICRA has estimated the net loss of domestic carriers at Rs 21,000 crore for FY21 due to travel restrictions and drop in passenger traffic as a result of pandemic.