Dubai: More Indians stranded in the UAE are being flown home, thanks to the participation by UAE airlines in operating chartered services for repatriation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several companies and community groups have chartered repatriation flights from UAE airlines, with some of them operating the first international flights to some destinations in India.
The special repatriation flights arranged by the Indian government under the Vande Bharat Mission are being operated by Air India and Air India Express, while some private airlines from India will soon be joining the mission.
However, the pace of the repatriation mission, dubbed to be the largest in history, gathered more steam after the Indian government allowed private airlines in the UAE and India to operate charter flights on behalf of companies and community groups.
India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Monday night revealed that it granted permission to around 870 chartered flights, transporting around 200,000 passengers, both inbound and outbound.
“Several Airlines helped in the humanitarian mission of taking stranded people to their destinations,” DGCA said in a series of tweets.
The list of airlines and their operations tweeted by DGCA showed that dozens of flights were operated by four major UAE airlines that took part in the chartered operations.
According to the DGCA, a total of 68 flights have been operated so far: FlyDubai (38), Air Arabia (20), Emirates (five) and Etihad (five),
Some community groups in the UAE said they opted for UAE budget carriers for operating chartered flights for repatriation as they could avail cheaper fares on them.
Some Indian-owned travel agencies that have facilitated chartered flights for community groups and companies echoed the view and added that operating flights from UAE carriers for chartered services ensured more certainty about flight schedules amid the pandemic.
A few chartered services for repatriation operated by UAE airlines created history in different ways.
A FlyDubai chartered flight carrying employees of Al Madina Group to Kerala’s Kannur International Airport received a special welcome upon landing -- a 'water-cannon' salute -- on Saturday.
The airport arranged the 'water-cannon' salute as it was the first among foreign airlines and the first UAE carrier to land at the airport that became operational last December, said Afi Ahmed, owner of Dubai-based Smart Travel that facilitated the chartering of the flight.
Meanwhile, an Air Arabia chartered flight that repatriated 215 people to Bhubaneshwar, in the state of Odisha, on Sunday hit the headlines for two reasons.
The flight chartered by the Odia Society of the UAE was the first international chartered flight for repatriation to land in Bhubaneshwar. Secondly, it was flown by a female Odia pilot based in the UAE, Captain Madhusmita Patnaik.
FlyDubai had also provided chartered services to repatriate Indian prisoners who have been released from prisons in Dubai and Abu Dhabi after completion of their sentences during the coronavirus pandemic.