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Air India pilots on Coronavirus rescue ops being given ‘sub-standard, flimsy’ PPE?

A union of Air India pilots has alleged that crew members operating flights during the Coronavirus lockdown are being given “substandard, flimsy” PPE
New Delhi: A trade union of Air India pilots has alleged that its crew members who are operating special flights during the Coronavirus lockdown are being given “substandard, ill-fitting and flimsy” PPE (personal protective equipment) and insufficient sanitizers. In a letter addressed to Minister for Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri, the Executive Pilots Association (EPA) said, “Our pilots and cabin crew are being provided substandard, ill-fitting and flimsy PPE that tear/disintegrate easily on rescue flights. Sanitizers are not provided in sufficient quantities and disinfection processes are short of industry best practices.”

‘These inadequacies put Air India crew at risk of Coronavirus infection’

“These inadequacies compound the chances of viral exposure and equipment contamination - and may even lead to a community (Stage 3) transmission of COVID-19 infection within crew members, passengers and the public at large, since most reside in large residential societies,” the EPA said in the letter. It also alleged that the medical services department of Air India has chosen to “lock its doors and wash its hands off” the flying crew amid the Coronavius pandemic. Pointing out that the airline’s medical services department is working from home and has limited its services to just phone calls, the pilots’ body requested Puri to make the department’s doctors, ambulances and infrastructure available 24x7 to support the flying crew. “This is the minimum level of support expected from an organisation that sends its employees to a biohazard frontline,” it added. The EPA also asked Puri to issue directions so that at least one senior executive each from medical services, personnel and finance departments is onboard each special flight to boost the crew’s morale and gain a better understanding of field requirements.

‘No additional insurance policy to cover Coronavirus rescue mission crews’

The union also pointed out that there is no additional insurance policy to cover any risk related to Coronavirus for crews operating rescue flights. It said that the families of pilots and crew members have been left “extremely anxious and vulnerable” as the insurance companies may invoke the force majeure clause in case there is a mass COVID-19 outbreak to not pay any money. The EPA said, “Our flying-related allowances, comprising 70 percent of our total emoluments, remain unpaid since January 2020... To add insult to injury, we have also recently been informed by our management of a substantial pay cut, while in the midst of the above mentioned COVID-19 rescue operations!”

The backdrop

As India is under a 21-day lockdown till April 14 to curb the spread of Coronavirus, all domestic and international passenger flights have been suspended for the period. However, Air India has been operating multiple flights to cities hit by the Coronavirus pandemic — like Wuhan in China and Rome in Italy — to rescue Indian citizens stuck there, to transport test kits, medicines, and relief material or to take foreigners to their countries.