Mammoth repatriation of Indians from UAE begins on May 7. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The flight crew of Air India Express (AIE) flying fellow Indians back home from the UAE today, in what is said to be the beginning of India’s biggest repatriation from the Gulf, will be in full personal protective equipment (PPE) as part of the precautionary measures being adopted to curb the spread of COVID-19, Gulf News has learnt.

In a telephone interview from India on Thursday morning, P.G. Prageesh, chief of Corporate Communications, AIE, said all 12 crew members for the first two repatriation flights - one each form Abu Dhabi and Dubai - will put on their PPE gear before take-off.

See how Air India Express crew get trained Image Credit: Supplied

The crew have also undergone extensive training in safety, health and hygiene protocol, besides taking lessons in social distancing and wearing PPE gear, ahead of the repatriation flights.

“Gulf evacuation is an Air India Express job and we are taking all necessary precautions to safely transport passengers from the UAE to India. As part of the standard operating protocols (SOP) laid down by the Ministry of Home Affairs, we will follow everything necessary for the safe evacuation of Indians from the UAE,” said Prageesh.

“There will be six crew members, including two pilots, on each flight. All crew will arrive from India to Abu Dhabi and Dubai wearing their uniforms. They will switch to PPE gear before take-off,” said Prageesh.

He said both the flights have a capacity of 189 passengers, but they will not run to full capacity, keeping in mind the social-distancing norms.

Air India Express staff learn to wear PPE gear ahead of their flight to repatriate Indians from UAE Image Credit: Supplied

AIE pilots and cabin crew members for the first repatriation run on Flight IX0419, which departed from Kochi at 12.30pm (Indian time) and is scheduled to arrived at Abu Dhabi International Airport at 3.15pm (UAE time) today, were trained on infection-control practices by Government Medical College Ernakulam, Kalamassery.

The RT-PCR (Real-Time Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction) tests were also conducted for the entire crew.

They were trained by the expert panel on infection control from Kalamassery Medical College. The training covered donning and doffing of PPE suits, infection-control practices to be followed inflight and also the management of anticipated health emergencies during the flight, Prageesh explained.

“For the first week of operation, we have a list of 60 pilots and 120 cabin crew. It was extremely difficult to deploy them at the respective bases as they were in lockdown at their destinations,” he said.

AIE has deployed eight aircraft at Kochi, Kozhikode, Thiruvananthapuram, Chennai and New Delhi airports for the purpose of operating repatriation flights.

The airline has resourced around 2,000 people, including staff members and service providers, for the entire operation for a week (first phase of the operation), he said.

“For the accommodation of these operating crew members, we had to obtain special permissions to get hotels opened. We also sought special permission to operate flight kitchens for this [repatriation] operation,” Prageesh said.

What does the PPE gear involve?

According to Prageesh, each of the crew members will wear a full suit, a head cover, goggles and face mask.

Ahead of their flight, the crew have been trained in safety, health and hygiene protocols to be adopted during the course of the flight. “They were also trained in social distancing and wearing PPE. Removing PPE gear itself is a 20-minute procedure.”

Prageesh said the crew have also tested negative for COVID-19. “They have been in self-quarantine after the training,” he added.

Water and snack boxes

Prageesh said each passenger will have two sets of masks, a 100ml sanitiser, a half-litre bottle of water and a snack box placed in front of their seats so that there is little engagement with the crew. There will no direct engagement with the crew.

“Both flights will have female crew to attend to pregnant women and those in need of help,” said Prageesh.


Prageesh said: “We are also trying to bring some cargo on the incoming flights to the Gulf region as these flights would come in empty. The incoming cargo will include perishable commodities from India.”