A special repatriation flight of Air Arabia chartered by Joy Alukkas for the jewellery group’s employees and their family members flew  home 143 adults, 25 children and 6 infants from Sharjah to Kochi in Kerala after they cleared rapid tests for COVID-19 on Monday night. A top official on Wednesday clarified that Kerala’s new rule mandating COVID-19 test for all passengers getting repatriated to the state from abroad would not impact those from the UAE as they already undergo rapid antibody tests.
Passengers on a special repatriation flight to India. For illustrative purpose only. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Indian missions in the UAE on Wednesday issued new rules for charter flights for repatriation services to India which will come into effect from Thursday.

The new guidelines will make airlines providing charter services responsible to coordinate with states on COVID-testing, quarantine and flight scheduling requirements, Consul General of India in Dubai, Vipul told Gulf News.

Ever since charter services were allowed for COVID-19 repatriation, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) was coordinating these with state governments through the Indian missions, he explained.

Repatriation through charter service is expected to be better streamlined with the new Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), he explained.

The Embassy of India in Abu Dhabi and the Consulate General of India in Dubai jointly issued a press statement announcing the new SOPs.

The missions stated that they had worked assiduously to repatriate Indians stranded in UAE due to COVID-19 situation under the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) since May 7, 2020.

60,000 repatriated by June 20

“By June 20, 2020 more than 60,000 people had been repatriated on these flights through Air India and chartered flights of other airlines,” the release said.

For the past three weeks, it said more than 200 chartered flights have been facilitated by the Embassy and the Consulate under the SOPs of the Government of India.

For flights from June 25, 2020 onwards a new SOP has been put in place by Government of India for chartered flights from the UAE and some other countries.

The missions said proposals which have already been submitted and processed are being conveyed to the ATOs.

“The charterers may check with ATOs if their proposals have been processed. New requests need not be placed for those flights which have already been processed.”

The missions said that they will provide full assistance in this transition phase for operating chartered flights under COVID-19 situation.

“The Embassy of India and the Consulate would like to thank the UAE authorities for their continuing wholehearted support in this process of repatriation of Indian nationals,” the release added.

Dr Puthur Rahman, president of the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC) UAE, which had sought permission to operate 140 charter flights to Kerala and has already operated 60 of them, welcomed the revised guidelines.

"When airlines handle approval procedures directly, it will cut red tape and lessen the burden on the missions. So, we hope we will get approvals faster," he told Gulf News.

Currently, 25 charter services that had already received approvals to operate by this weekend are awaiting schedules from the state government, he said.

"I think airlines dealing with scheduling will be practically a better idea."

New SOP in detail

Under the new SOPs, the following steps will be required to be followed for chartering a flight from the UAE to India for repatriation:

a. Chartering entities should identify an Air Transport Operator (ATO) on their own.

b. ATOs send the receiving state (where the destination airport is located) their flight plans, state clearance forms and passenger manifests directly, with a copy to the Embassy/Consulate. While the Embassy/Consulate will vet the passenger manifest, the ATO simultaneously should proceed to get state clearance for the flight directly in writing.

c. Once the state clearance is in hand, the ATO has to take a No Objection Certificate (NOC) for the manifest from the Embassy/Consulate.

d. With the state clearance and NOC from the Embassy/Consulate, the ATO should approach the DGCA for flight clearance.

e. States and ATOs manage flight schedule, frequency etc. with regard to all arriving passengers. They should also coordinate with each other where chartered flights have mixed domicile passengers.

f. Where required, chartering entities finalise quarantine arrangements directly with the states.

The contact list of state coordinators who will be the points of contact for ATOs (both Indian and foreign) have been shared with the ATOs who can work out the schedule of their chartered flights with them, from now onwards, the missions stated.