National carrier Air India recently received an unexpected praise for its relief operations - from Air Traffic Controller (ATC) of Pakistan. As the world grapples to contain rising cases of coronavirus, Air India was evacuating stranded European and Canadian citizens in its special flights operating from India to Frankfurt.
On April 2, Air India operated two special flights from Mumbai for the relief operation. As one of these flights entered Pakistan's Flight Information Region, the Pakistan ATC applauded the senior captain for the humanitarian effort in times of global pandemic, which has grounded a majority of airlines across the world.
"It was a very proud moment for me as well as the entire Air India crew when we heard from Pakistan ATC praising our special flight operations to Europe," an ANI report quoted one of the senior captains of the flight as saying.
"As we entered in the Pakistan's Flight Information Region (FIR) and the Pakistan Air Traffic Controller (ATC) greeted us 'Assalaam Alaikum!' This is Karachi's control welcoming Air India for relief flights to Frankfurt," the Pakistan ATC told the senior captain.
Once the pilot of Air India flight confirmed, the Pakistan ATC showered praise on Air India. "We are proud of you that in a pandemic situation you are operating flights, Good Luck!"
After the heartwarming conversation, when the Air India captain informed the Pakistan ATC that he was not receiving next radar for the Iran airspace, Pakistan communicated the Indian plane's position to the Tehran airspace and gave details of the two special Air India flights.
As part of the relief operations, AI's Boeing-777 and Boring 787 carried out special evacuation flights for European and Canadian citizens from Mumbai and Delhi. After crossing Pakistan airspace, the special flight entered Iran.
The captain said for the first time in his career, he had seen Iran giving a direct route of over 1,000 miles to aircraft of another country. Direct route of Iran airspace is strictly reserved for their defence purposes only and is rarely accessible by airlines of other countries.
The Air India captain said Iran ATC also wished them 'all the best'. After Iran, the AI special flights went through Turkey and then Germany's airspace.
"All ATCs from Bombay to Frankfurt welcomed the special flights of Air India and wished us very proudly," the Captain said.
All crew members and pilots onboard wore the mandatory COVID-19 masks for 20 hours to/from and ground time at Frankfurt. The airline staff will now remain in self-quarantine for 14 days.
By Aseem Thapliyal