MUMBAI: The Air India pilot who learnt that he had tested positive for Covid-19 after he landed in Sydney from Delhi was not supposed to operate the Australia flight, said airline sources.
“The said pilot was put on standby for a flight to Lagos, Nigeria, but was moved to Delhi-Sydney-Delhi flight after the Captain rostered for the Australia flight called in sick,’’ said an Air India source. Under Air India norms, crew undergoes Covid testing post flight twice. Once within 24 hours of landing in India and the second on the fifth day of arrival. “The said pilot had tested negative for the test he took on June 16, the fifth day of arrival,’’ said a source. The norms of pre-flight test is that the sample should have been collected upto five days before departure. “Since he has tested negative for a sample collected within five days before his Lagos departure, he was put on standby for Lagos flight. Then when the Sydney Captain didn’t show up, he was asked to operate the Australia flight. Prior to that his sample was collected again on June 20. Since he had tested negative on June 16, and since one of the pilots had pulled out, he was put on the Sydney flight before the reports came in,’’ the source said.
The airline called up the pilot and told him that he had tested positive for Covid after he landed in Sydney. “The cabin crew who operated the Delhi-Sydney flight will operate the return leg as well as they weren’t in contact with the Covid positive pilot. But the whole cockpit crew of Delhi-Sydney flight has been quarantined in Sydney,’’ the source added.
Air India, in a statement said: “The said pilot had a valid pre-flight Covid negative test report just before operating the flight. We had no flight to Sydney yesterday (Sunday), so no one is stranded there. The crew operating today’s flight will take their mandatory rest and operate back. We have adhered to all the laid down protocols in this regard.”
This is the second time that Air India has found itself grappling with such a situation. Last month, on May 30, an Air India flight from Delhi to Moscow was forced to return midway after the airline found that one of the pilots on board had tested positive for COVID. The flight was heading to Moscow to bring back stranded Indians and had reached Uzbekistan airspace when the airline ground team realised that a COVID positive pilot was on board. The flight, which had no passengers on board, then returned to Delhi and the crew was quarantined.
Following the incident, Air India issued an official communication making it mandatory for its pilots and cabin crew members to check and confirm that their pre-flight COVID test report is negative before they operate the flight. Prior to that, the onus was only on Air India medical team and rostering department.