Vande Bharat Mission: Air India’s first rescue flight to head to Singapore

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NEW DELHI: National carrier Air India is all set to operate the first ‘special ferry’ flight from New Delhi to Singapore on Thursday, under India’s massive ‘Vande Bharat Mission’ to bring back its stranded citizens from abroad.

Following the laid-down Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) which were released on Tuesday, the airline has tested its pilots and crews for Covid-19 and is expecting their reports by Thursday afternoon.

The aircraft has been readied and Air India has also taken care of all other logistical aspects to embark on this mission.

According to highly placed sources, the Delhi-Singapore flight will be the first in the 64 ferry services which will be operated by the airline and its subsidiary Air India Express from May 7-13. It will also be the only one to be operated on Thursday.

“There is no delay in our flight operations, we are following all the set guidelines, which were released only yesterday. In such a short while we have achieved readiness and are only awaiting the final test report,” a source told IANS.

India will commence one of the world’s largest air rescue operations from May 7, when the two airlines will start the first phase of the mission. As per plans, these two airlines will operate 64 flights in 7 days to bring back 14,800 stranded Indians from 12 countries. Overall, more than 190,000 Indian nationals, who would have to pay a one-way ferry service charge, are expected to be brought back in an airlift operation that might last couple of weeks or even more.

In comparison, three decades ago, Air India led a group of airlines which included Indian Airlines and Aeroflot as well as IAF to rescue an estimated 111,711 Indians from the Gulf, after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. The 59-day operation involved 488 flights and was conducted before the first Gulf war. This time, the exercise will encompass flights to the US in the west to the Philippines in the east. As per the plan, 10 flights will be operated to the UAE to bring Indians from May 7-13, while 7 will be sent to the US, 7 to Malaysia and 5 to Saudi Arabia, amongst others.

Subsequently, the passengers availing these flights will be charged for the one-way ferry service, as the national carrier is already in a financial turmoil. Lately, despite its precarious financial position, the flag carrier has emerged as one of the few airlines in the world that have evacuated more than 9,000 passengers during the Covid-19 crisis.

The airline to date has carried out massive flight operations to China, Japan and Europe to bring back stranded Indians, mostly students and pilgrims. Additionally, the airline has been instrumental in repatriating foreigners to Israel, UK and Germany. Moreover, Air India and its subsidiary Alliance Air has reached every corner of the country to supply essential medical equipment.