750 stranded Indian nationals wait to board Air India flights at an airport as the government has arranged four flights to Kochi, Kannur, Kozhikode and Trivandrum to evacuate them under Vande Bharat mission, in Dubai. Image Credit: Consulate General of India, Dubai

Dubai: India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation on Tuesday announced Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) for private aircraft and charter flights to repatriate stranded Indians and certain categories of Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As per the SOP, a copy of which has been obtained by Gulf News, only those registered with the Indian missions in the flight's country of origin can be carried on the flight.

“The operator or the hirer of the charter will submit the flight details at least four days in advance to the Indian mission with a complete list of passengers along with their personal details and obtain an NOC (No Objection Certificate) recommendation from the mission for the list of passengers to be carried.”

When contacted, Consul General of India in Dubai Vipul told Gulf News that the Indian missions in the UAE are awaiting further official instructions in this regard.

Government approvals

Earlier on May 22, Vipul had told Gulf News that the government would allow companies in the UAE wishing to repatriate a large number of their employees to charter flights.

The SOP said operator will also have to obtain an NOC for the flight from the state or union territory government of the destination airport.

This can be done either directly or through the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) or through the Indian mission in the country from where the passengers are to be evacuated, the SOP stated while explaining in detail about various NOCs that need to be obtained for such operations.

“After receiving the NOC/recommendation from the Indian mission concerned for passengers to be carried, the state or union territory government’s clearance and slot clearance from the airport also have to be obtained.”

Average cost could be Dh1200

Afi Ahmed, managing director of Dubai-based Smart Travel, said he would be applying for NOC to charter around 40 flights on behalf of various Indian community groups and companies in the UAE.

“I have requests to charter flights from the KMCC (Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre), Indian Association Sharjah, UAE PRO Association, Al Madina Group etc. to fly people to Kerala. I am taking this up as a social commitment and will not take any profit from this service.”

He said the airlines he had been discussing with were looking at an average rate of Dh1200 to Kerala.

Tickets to Kerala are priced around Dh725 on the special repatriation flights of Air India and Air India Express under the Vande Bharat Mission.

The ministry said the SOP to facilitate the movement of stranded Indian nationals and certain OCI card holders follows an order dated May 24 by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) permitting international charter operations and operations by private aircraft to bring back stranded Indian nationals to lndia. It pointed out that the MHA in another order dated May 22 had also allowed certain categories of OCI Card holders to return to lndia.

Consulate alert

However, the Indian Consulate in Dubai on Sunday, May 24, had issued a public notice warning Indian nationals in the UAE against a potential scam pertaining to chartered repatriation flights.

The notice read: “It has come to our notice that certain people and travel agencies in the UAE are contacting Indian nationals in the name of forthcoming chartered flights to various destinations in India and in some cases, alluring them to pay money in advance for airfare and quarantine charges in India.”

The mission said the Indian government had not accorded approval for any such chartered flights at that time.

“A proposal of chartered flight to India, if any, for any designated purpose, will be approved by the Govt of India and routed through the Consulate General of India, Dubai during the current crisis of COVID-19 and till resumption of normal international civil aviation services between India and UAE.”

Indian Consulate in Dubai has ensured that no seat remains vacant and full capacity utilised in an attempt to warn the citizens to not get fooled by some private travel agencies of false claims in charter flights to India. Image Credit: Consulate General of India, Dubai

Guidelines and protocols

The pre-departure and on arrival guidelines and boarding instructions for the passengers given in the SOP released on Tuesday are similar to the ones being followed by Indian nationals being repatriated on special flights under the Vande Bharat Mission.

The passengers would be seated in the aircraft sequentially from rear to front, with passengers on windows being seated first so as to prevent any crowding or crossing over in the aisles.

The SOP has also given in-depth safety instructions for the cabin and flight crew and handling of the passengers.

“There shall be no sale of any item on board in order to minimize interaction of the crew with passengers.

Lavatory should be sanitized once every hour, or after being used five times whichever is earlier, during flight, and after disinfection, hands should be cleaned and disinfected,” it said.

The safety precautions include use of hand sanitiser, continuous wearing of mask and face shield, minimum use of lavatories with all precautions of sanitisation, no or restricted movement during the flight and sanitising hands before taking meals and after use of lavatories.

No newspapers, magazines or other non-essential loose items will be allowed on board. In-flight entertainment will be switched off to minimise touch on aircraft surfaces.

“A specific area of the aircraft should be reserved as a quarantine area for handling possible in-flight emergencies. Special protections like PPE and sanitizers should be used by crew for handling such cases. Adequate quantity of PPE to be available for a possibility of more than one such case,” the SOP stated.