THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The first aircraft of the Kochi-headquartered Air India Express will take off from Cochin International Airport at 12.30 pm local time on Thursday for evacuation of Indian expatriates stranded in the Gulf because of Covid-19 spread. The low-budget arm of the national carrier will airlift over 4,000 expatriates from May 7 to 13.
The first aircraft will touch down at Abu Dhabi International Airport at 3.15 pm local time and take to the skies again with 177 passengers on board by around 4.15 pm, the airline said, but CIAL said in its press release in the evening that 179 passengers will arrive on the flight. By 9.40 pm, the flight is expected to land at the Kochi airport, creating history in evacuation if everything goes according to plan.
The largest civilian evacuation by air ever in the history of the country was in 1990 during the Gulf War, during which Air India had operated around 488 flights over 59 days carrying around 1.12 lakh Indians back to Mumbai.
As per the initial information, Air India Express will operate 23 flights from May 7 to 13 from Gulf countries, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and Singapore to airports in Kerala, Bengaluru, Chennai, Tiruchy, Lucknow and Amritsar. Of these flights, 13 are scheduled to fly into Kerala.
Sources close to the national carrier said if everything goes according to plan, the whole evacuation exercise would last for over two months, making it the largest civilian airlift, as Kerala alone expects to bring around 2 lakh expats. As many as 8 aircraft would be pressed into service by Air India Express for the evacuation scheduled for the first week.
Each aircraft will carry as many as 177 passengers and six crew including one flight commander and a co-pilot, taking the total number of people on board to 183. While the Gulf sector and Far East would be handled by Air India Express, the evacuation from the US, the UK and European countries would be handled by Air India.
The passengers will be given a snack box and a 500ml bottle of water inside the flight apart from masks and sanitisers. The Central Warehousing Corporation will disinfect the aircraft after every evacuation flight. Thiruvananthapuram International Airport director C V Ravindran said, “The airport has made all arrangements to receive the expats.
As per Covid protocol, the passengers can get out of the airport in two hours. A limited space inside the airport has been earmarked for the handling of the returning passengers while ensuring enough space for maintaining social distancing inside terminal building. Similarly, minimal staff would be deployed for the handling of passengers,” he said. Though the evacuation would begin on Thursday, the first flight with evacuees will land at the Thiruvananthapuram airport only on Sunday, from Doha.