Air India is showing transparency today, as it admits making an error when it cleared a crew to depart for a Vande Bharat repatriation flight.

Covid positive pilot was allowed to fly to Russia

Every day, Air India goes through hundreds of coronavirus test results on an Excel spreadsheet to ensure flight crews have a negative result, and are therefore safe to fly.

There are more than 300 daily tests to be analysed at Delhi airport alone, and that process showed signs of strain this morning.

As reported by the Times of India, an Airbus A-320 Neo belonging to Air India (VT-EXR) was en route to Moscow, Russia from Delhi when the airline realised that one of the pilots onboard had, in fact, tested positive for coronavirus.

No passengers were onboard, as the airline was flying empty to collect Indians in Russia who wanted to return home. The flight was in Uzbekistan airspace when it was called back to Delhi.

Another A320 will be sent to Moscow on Saturday afternoon to complete the mission.

A source told the paper this was an “oversight by the team checking pre-flight test reports”, and that Air India “did not even think of covering it up”.

Air India crews have not received their flying allowances (which make up the bulk of their remuneration) since March, placing them under financial strain.

The Times of India’s source added:

"It takes three months to start a new station (meaning start operating flights to a new city). Here we have flown or are preparing to go to nine new cities (including distant ones like Auckland and Vancouver) in a week. We are working under tremendous work pressure and unprecedented uncertainty. The fact that we are doing so with pay due for three months now only adds to the pressure. This is our condition. But we are not justifying what happened with the Delhi-Moscow flight. We are humans and had a genuine oversight, a mistake. We did not even think of covering it up and called the flight back to Delhi as soon as we realised the same."

Summing up

Air India staff are clearly under a lot of pressure as they work in challenging conditions, though 300 results doesn’t seem a huge number to analyse - even if they are having to work through an Excel document (have they heard of the ‘find’ function?).

Even so, Air India could easily have kept quiet and allowed the crew to continue to Moscow, so they should be commended for doing the right thing and not endangering lives.

What do you make of this morning’s aborted flight to Russia?