In an unusual incident reported on Saturday, an Air India flight was called back midway as the ground team realised that the pilot was coronavirus positive. Air India's Delhi-Moscow Airbus A-320 Neo (VT-EXR) flight, under the Vande Bharat Mission, was on its way to Moscow to bring the stranded Indians there.
Seemingly, the ground staff misread the pilot's clinical reports that initially led to the consent for the take-off.
As a negative report turns positive
According to an official, the team checking for pre-flight test reports of the crew had misread the captain's positive report as negative before its take-off. Hence, the flight with no passengers on board had to be called back immediately to Delhi from over Uzbekistan as soon as the ground staff realized their oversight.
The ferry flight was asked to return to Delhi at around 12.30 pm on Saturday. As the test reports turned positive, the pilot as well as the rest of the crew was sent to quarantine.
"When the A-320 plane, which did not have any passengers as it was heading to Moscow to bring back stranded Indians under Vande Bharat Mission, had reached Uzbekistan's airspace, our team on the ground realised that one of the pilots had tested Covid-19 positive," said a senior Air India official.
International Business Times, India, reached out to Capt. Amit Singh Fellow, Royal Aeronautical Society, UK & Former Head Airline Operations, Safety, for an expert analysis of the situation. He said: "The report doesn't mention '+ve' or '-ve', it states Positive or Negative. The AI procedure is that the crew will not be rostered for a flight unless the report has confirmed a negative result."
Another flight sent to Moscow
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has ordered a probe in the matter and the investigation is underway. "Prima facie it appears to be a lapse," mentioned a senior DGCA official.
Meanwhile, the officials arranged another plane to be sent to Moscow to bring back the stranded Indians.
The called back flight was soon deep-cleaned and sanitised as per the protocol.
According to the SOP, the airline authorities have to mandatorily conduct COVID tests of the operating crew before every flight. Only when the tests are negative, are they given clearance to board the aircraft.