Pilots and cabin crew at Air India have been ordered to check the results of mandatory pre-flight COVID-19 tests before operating a flight after one pilot only found out his test result had come back positive halfway into a five-hour flight to Moscow. Air India said the COVID-19 testing was being paid by the airline at great expense and that it was the responsibility of individual crew members to check their results as reduced numbers of office staff meant to the company couldn’t chase up every single positive result.
Air India flight AI1945 operated by an Airbus A320 was flying from Delhi to Moscow on Saturday in order to repatriate citizens who had been stuck in Russia after Indian officials closed the borders to reduce the spread of the novel Coronavirus. Nearly halfway into the five-hour flight to Russia, it was discovered that the COVID-19 test for one of the pilots had come back positive.
As a result, the plane had to turn around as it was flying over Uzbekistan and make its way back to Delhi. To make matters worse, there was even a slight delay in getting back because the pilots had to obtain permission from Pakistani air traffic controllers to fly over Pakistan.
In the end, the plane flew 2,623 miles just to end up where it first started – just 56 miles short of the total distance between Delhi and Moscow.
“The COVID-19 test is being conducted by the airline at a substantial cost, with considerable effort. As it is a recent procedure and there is a shortage of staff in office, there is a possibility of an oversight in this matter,” Captain R S Sandhu, Executive Director of Operations at Air India told staffers in an internal memo.
“The test is primarily designed to mitigate the risk of transmission among the crew. Every effort will be made by the personnel dealing with the testing and rostering of crew to ensure that the reports are checked before crew is being rostered for a flight,” the memo continued.
However, Captain Sandhu also made it clear that it is the individual crew members responsibility to also check the test results before declaring they are fit to fly. “In case of any oversight in this matter, not only are there avoidable adverse operational issues, tarnishing the image of the airline, but also irresponsible exposure of a fellow crew member to this disease,” the memo continued.
An Air India spokesperson admitted the mistake, saying that a restoring team failed to check the test results properly before scheduling the pilot to operate the flight. As soon as the mistake was discovered, the aircraft was recalled back to Delhi. All the crew onboard have been retested and asked to self-quarantine.
The spokesperson added that the aircraft was also disinfected on its arrival back at base.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.