File photo of an Air India Express flight | Wikimedia Commons
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New Delhi: Air India Express became the first Indian airline to operate an international flight from Delhi to Dubai Friday with a crew fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Captains D.R. Gupta and Alok Kumar Nayak led the flight with cabin crew members Venkat Kella, Praveen Chandra, Pravin Chougle and Manisha Kamble. The same crew operated the return flight on the Dubai-Jaipur-Delhi sector.

“We have vaccinated almost all eligible crew members and frontline staff not only to ensure their safety and health but also to make our passengers feel safe and reassured as they fly with us,” the airline said in a statement.

“As we operate the country’s first international flight with fully-vaccinated crew, it may be recalled that it was Air India Express that operated India’s first-ever Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) flight which touched down Indian soil on 7 May 2020 carrying passengers from Abu Dhabi. We are happy that now our teams are shielded with the protection of the vaccines” it added.

Air India Express has operated over 7,000 VBM flights carrying a total of 1.63 million passengers till last month.

“This is a historic flight for Indian civil aviation as well as Air India Express. For all flights, we have carried out pre- and post-flight Covid tests. Being fully vaccinated provides us with another shield. Vaccinating the staff was not an easy task since the crew is spread over eight bases across the country. The management went into overdrive to ensure our safety. Air India Express is the safest airline to operate internationally,” Gupta can be heard saying in a video shot from inside the flight.

Also read: Modi govt plans over 100 routes for seaplane services: A look at its history & market in India

Troubles for aviation sector 

In May alone, at least 14 pilots from Air India, Vistara and IndiGo succumbed to the pandemic. The national carrier lost five pilots, Vistara two while IndiGo was the worst hit with seven deaths. Staff members blamed the delayed vaccination drive for the same.

Earlier, Vistara operated India’s first domestic flight with fully vaccinated pilots and cabin crew Wednesday on the Delhi-Mumbai sector.

This was preceded by the airline announcing that it has administered the first dose to nearly 100 per cent of its staff members, as it continues to ramp up efforts to vaccinate all eligible employees at the earliest.

Vistara Chief Commercial Officer Vinod Kannan said, “Vaccination is the best known defence against the pandemic that is helping the world get back to normalcy, subsequently aiding the recovery of the aviation industry. This special flight operated by our fully vaccinated cabin crew and pilots is a sign of our continued commitment towards making ‘flying feel safe again’.”

The move came at a time when the second Covid wave has rattled the Indian aviation sector.

CAPA India, an aviation consultancy firm, said the second wave has pushed the sector to a “point of no return”. The month of May saw a 63 per cent dip in passenger traffic as the second wave peaked in India, according to CAPA India.

However, the past two weeks have seen an uptick in passenger movement, hinting towards better days. The figures are expected to get better by July.

Also read: Covid surge hits air travel, so carriers turn to govt for financial help, lower capacity limit


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