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The Airline That Won A Million Hearts for Operating COVID-19 Relief Flights

VT-ALT, Boeing 777-300ER

Latest Update to this article – April 25, 2020 1500 hrs

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It’s been a while since COVID-19 has caused a havoc to the global economy and the Aviation industry, in particular. While this crisis continues and has put the travel plans of millions of passengers at stake, one airline has been very actively involved in operating numerous rescue flights to rest of the world. The airline has been working hard to bring back the local citizens as well as evacuate stranded foreigners. The staff of this airline is not a part of any Defence forces. Yet they are always in the forefront and ready for their call of duty to assist the Government when needed. You guessed it right! We are talking about Air India – the national carrier of India, and the courageous Air India family who have been a part of the Air India relief operation during the Covid-19 crisis.

While India is under a complete lockdown, Air India, (as always) came to the forefront to help citizens of India and other countries reach their destinations respectively. This is not the first time the airline has come forward during such crisis situations. Let’s take a look at the efforts from Air India and appreciate the work put in by the staff and management of Air India during this crisis situation.

Air India Boeing 747s relief operation to Wuhan, China

VT-EVB, Boeing 747-400
Picture for Representation Purpose – VT-EVB, Boeing 747-400

In January and February 2020, Air India operated their first rescue flights to Wuhan, China. This Air India relief operation was to get back stranded Indians and a few citizens of other Nationalities who were stuck due to the rising COVID-19 cases across the country. The airline flew two of its Boeing 747-400 aircraft (VT-ESP and VT-EVB) with a complete set of professionals including the Doctors, security staff, crew and commercial staff.

Read more about the Wuhan Rescue operation by Air India in the article below:

Coronavirus: Air India Boeing 747 Rescue Flight to Wuhan

Air India relief flight to Tokyo, Japan

VT-EVA, Boeing 747-400
Picture for Representation Purpose – VT-EVA, Boeing 747-400

An Air India flight, operated by the Boeing 747-400 (VT-EVA) as AI1307 repatriated Indians from the Japanese cruise ship “Diamond Princess”. The aircraft brought back 119 Indians and 5 foreigners (two from Sri Lanka and one each from Nepal, South Africa and Peru) to New Delhi landed on February 27, 2020 at 04:29 hours.

Air India rescue operation from Milan

VT-NAA, Boeing 787-8
Picture for Representation Purpose – VT-NAA, Boeing 787-8

On March 15, 2020, Air India flew their Boeing 787 aircraft (VT-NAA) to Milan to rescue 211 Indian students who were stranded due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Air India flight to Rome

VT-ALK, Boeing 777-300ER
Picture for Representation Purpose – VT-ALK, Boeing 777-300ER

While Italy had seen a tremendous rise in the COVID-19 cases in the month of March, it was Air India who went to rescue the Indians stuck in Italy. The National carrier flew it’s Boeing 777-300ER (VT-ALK) to get back stranded citizens who had been waiting in anticipation to return back to India. The flight departed from New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport on March 21, 2020 was commanded by Captain Swati Raval, along with Captain Raja Chauhan,  and landed back carrying 263 passengers. This was the second batch of Indians evacuated from Italy (after the earlier Air India relief operation from Milan).

Evacuation flight to Tel Aviv, Israel

VT-ALU, Boeing 777-300ER
Picture for Representation Purpose – VT-ALU, Boeing 777-300ER

In continuation to these relief efforts, Air India operated a relief flight with over 300 stranded Israelis from New Delhi to Tel Aviv, Israel. The Boeing 777-300ER (VT-ALU) aircraft departed New Delhi on March 26, 2020 as AI 139 and landed back the next day as a ferry flight (without any passengers). Ron Malka, Israel’s Ambassador in New Delhi, visited the airport to see off the passengers and thanked Air India for their selfless service.

Evacuation flights to France and Germany

VT-ALX, Boeing 777-300ER
Picture for Representation Purpose – VT-ALX, Boeing 777-300ER

Air India operated evacuation flights to Frankfurt and Paris from Mumbai and Delhi along with relief materials. The airline had evacuated Nationals from Thiruvanathapuram and Goa and flew the people from Paris and Frankfurt. Air India flew their aircrafts VT-ALT, VT-ALX and VT-ALN to Frankfurt, Germany and VT-ALO to Paris. While Air India operated these sectors, millions of people across the globe praised Air India and its crew for their selfless service in lieu of this pandemic situation.

Unexpected Surprise!

On April 1 and 2, Air India operated special relief flights out of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport for Frankfurt. During the course of the flight, Air India received an unexpected message from Pakistan’s Air Traffic Controller (ATC). The ATC wished Air India’s crew for operating relief flights during such global crisis.

Below is the conversation between the ATC and the Pilot as shared by the Captain of that Air India flight: (Source: India Today)

“As we entered in Pakistan’s Flight Information Region (FIR), the Pakistan Air Traffic Controller (ATC) greeted us ‘Assalaam Alaikum!’ This is Karachi’s control welcoming Air India for relief flights to Frankfurt,” the senior captain quoted the Pakistan ATC as saying.

“Confirm are you operating relief flights for Frankfurt,” the Pakistani ATC further said.

“AFFIRM,” said the Air India captain in Pakistan’s airspace.

“You are cleared direct to exit point Kebud request estimate crossing Kebud (Exit),” came a response from the ATC.

Air India captain replied, saying “Cleared direct Kebud, Thank you.”

After this, the Pakistan ATC showered praise on Air India.

“We are proud of you that in a pandemic situation you are operating flights, Good Luck!”

“Thank you so much,” responded the captain of India’s national carrier.

What a proud moment it must have been for the crew when they had received such inspiring messages from the fellow Air Traffic Controller. Later, when the captain switched to the Iran Airspace frequency, the ATC of Iran gave them a direct track of 1000 NM thus thanking the Pilot and the entire airline staff for the good gesture.

First time in my entire career as a pilot, Iran gave a direct routing for about 1000 miles a privilege guess enjoyed as special flights, in all especially in the recent tense situation in the Iranian airspace,” he said. – Source: India Today

On that day, all the Flight Information Regions, also known as FIRs, through which the aircraft had passed, just said one thing, “We are proud of You!“. While the ATC across enroute from Mumbai to Frankfurt thanked the Air India crew and staff, the whole Nation was proud of this outstanding mission accomplished by Team Air India.

The crew on this flight were on duty for a direct stretch of 20 hours. The crew were responsible to take care of themselves and fellow colleagues throughout the flight. As a mandatory procedure in this pandemic situation, the airline staff will now remain in self-quarantine for a period of 14 days.

Evacuation flight to London for Canadian Citizens

VT-ALQ, Boeing 777-300ER
Picture for Representation Purpose – VT-ALQ, Boeing 777-300ER

On April 4 and 6, 2020, as a part of this ongoing mission, Air India flew Canadian citizens from Delhi to London for the Canadian Embassy. The flight was operated by the Boeing 777-300ER, VT-ALQ. After the 21-day lockdown was announced by India’s Prime Minister, Shri. Narendra Modi, all flight operations (both domestic and international) were cancelled. As a result, many Canadian citizens were stranded in New Delhi. The airline flew it’s Boeing 777-300ER to Toronto and ferried back the bird to Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport. The passengers of this two times service between Delhi and London will be further connected on Air Canada to make them reach home.

Domestic charter flights for US Nationals stranded in India

VT-EXG, Airbus A320neo
Picture for Representation Purpose – VT-EXG, Airbus A320neo

Adding to all these international relief and evacuation flights, Air India is also assisting US citizens who are stranded in India. The airline is helping the stranded Americans and flying them to Mumbai and Delhi. Further, these passengers will be connected on to Delta Airlines who is currently operating repatriation flights to India.

Ferry flight to get essential materials from China

VT-ALJ, Boeing 777-300ER
Picture for Representation Purpose – VT-ALJ, Boeing 777-300ER

On April 5, 2020, as part of the ongoing Air India Relief Operation around the world, an Air India Boeing 777-300ER (VT-ALN) flew to Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport as AI349 from Shanghai. The flight was a ferry flight (onward from New Delhi to Shanghai) to pick up COVID-19 essentials. The flight landed back in Mumbai with 19.4 tonnes of medical kit materials. This was Air India’s first of many cargo charter flights to bring in relief materials from China. Later the same day, Air India operated the second Boeing 777-300ER (VT-ALJ) on BOM-DEL-PVG-DEL-BOM sector to carry additional relief materials from China.

April 9 – Boeing 777-300ER VT-ALU operated the DEL-PVG sector as AI348 to bring in essential supplies from China. In the next few weeks, VT-ALS, VT-ALO and others have been operating on the BOM-DEL-PVG-BOM sectors to bring relief materials as part of the “Air-Bridge” connection that has been set up between India and China.

On April 6th, Air India operated a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner (VT-ANI) from New Delhi to Hong Kong for bringing the essential relief materials. The aircraft will land back at New Delhi on April 7 at around 1130 hrs. Similarly, on April 13, 15, 22, Air India operated their Dreamliner aircraft (VT-ANP & VT-ANR) on DEL-HKG sector for bringing essential supplies.

Air India and Alliance Air relief flights within India

VT-RKJ, ATR72-600
Picture for Representation Purpose – VT-RKJ, ATR72-600

Air India along with Alliance Air operate flights within India almost on a daily basis. The airline operates their fleet of ATR 72-600s and Airbus A320s to carry relief materials across cities in India. Alliance Air and Air India assisted the Govt. by transporting essential items such as the ICMR kits between Delhi, Pune and Patna. The same has been acknowledged by the Ministry of Civil Aviation in a Tweet:

Aircraft and Route List

We managed to compile this list of the flights operated by the fleet of Air India and Alliance Air on domestic routes. This below infographic shows the list of airports and the aircrafts that has operated to these airports. The aircraft in consideration are the Air India Airbus A319, A320, A321, Boeing 777 amd Alliance Air ATR 72-600.

AircraftRegistration(s)Airports covered
Airbus A319VT-SCMDEL, AJL, CCU, HYD
Airbus A320VT-EXEMAA, IXZ
Airbus A320neoVT-EXF, VT-EXN. VT-EXO, VT-EXP, VT-EXQ, VT-EXRBLR, BOM, DEL, IXR, SXR, HYD, VGA, CCU, GAU, MAA, IXC, TRV, GOI, DED, ATQ
Airbus A321VT-PPA, VT-PPH, VT-PPI, VT-PPQDEL, BBI, HYD, VGA, MAA, BOM, CCU, IXZ, (CMB)
Boeing 777-300ERVT-ALJ, VT-ALN, VT-ALO, VT-ALQ, VT-ALT, VT-ALXDEL, BOM, GOI, TRV, BLR, COK, ATQ, (PVG, FRA, CDG, LHR, FCO, TLV)
Boeing 787-8 DreamlinerVT-ANA, VT-ANE, VT-ANI, VT-ANJ, VT-ANL, VT-ANN, VT-ANR, VT-ANU, VT-ANWDEL, BOM, BLR, CCU, HYD, MAA, GOI, (FRA, HKG, MXP)
ATR 72-600 (Operated by Alliance Air)VT-AIV, VT-AIY, VT-AIZ, VT-RKD, VT-RKE, VT-RKF, VT-RKH, VT-RKK, VT-RKLDEL, BOM, CCU, HYD, BLR, PNQ, TRV, CJB, ISK, IXA, GAU, DIB, RPR, PAT, IXR, VNS,

Air India carries essential life saving medicines to Sri Lanka

VT-PPI, Airbus A321
Picture for Representation Purpose – VT-PPI, Airbus A321

On April 7, 2020, Air India carried a consignment gift of essential life saving medicines (~10 tonnes) on an Airbus A321 (VT-PPA) from New Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport to Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo. The aircraft departed from New Delhi at 1030 hrs and landed in Colombo at 1345 hrs and later returned back to New Delhi at 1800 hrs.

The gifted consignments had the following message pasted –

“A gift from the people and government of India to the people and government of Sri Lanka in this hour of need.”

The President of Sri Lanka, Shri. Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Prime Minister, Shri. Mahinda Rajapaksa tweeted his heartfelt appreciation to the Prime Minister of India and to the people of India for their warm gesture.

Similarly, on April 8th, the second Air India Relief Operation flight took off to Colombo. The flight was once again operated by an Airbus A321 aircraft (VT-PPI) with more essential life saving materials to Sri Lanka.

April 15, 2020 – Air India Relief Operations with medical supplies to Mauritius

VT-ANL, Boeing 787-8
Picture for Representation Purpose – VT-ANL, Boeing 787-8

On April 15, Air India sent a Boeing 787 Dreamliner (VT-ANL) to the island of Mauritius. As a mark of longstanding special friendship between India and Mauritius, India today delivered the first consignment of half million tablets of Hydroxychloroquine and 12 tons of lifesaving medicines to Mauritius as per their request. Vice PM of Mauritius Mrs. Leela Devi Luchoomun Dookun received the consignment and thanked the Indian Government for their support offered.

April 15, 2020 – Air India special flight to Seychelles

The same aircraft (VT-ANL) continued from Mauritius to Seychelles. The aircraft carried first of two consignments of medical supply (about 4 tonnes) in response to the country’s efforts to fight the COVID-19 epidemic. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Seychelles, welcomed the flight along with Indian High Commissioner Gen. Dalbir Singh at Victoria-Seychelles Airport.

April 15, 2020 – Air India moves 56 tonnes of perishables to London and Frankfurt

VT-ANA, Boeing 787-8
Picture for Representation Purpose – VT-ANA, Boeing 787-8

Under the Krishi Udan scheme, Air India operated their second flight from Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport to Frankfurt on April 15. The flight carried 27 tons of seasonal fruits and vegetables from Mumbai to Frankfurt and returned with 10 tonnes of general cargo. The flight was operated by Air India’s Boeing 787 aircraft (VT-ANA).

The first flight under this scheme operated on April 13th from CSMIA to London. The flight carried 28.95 tons of fruits and vegetables and returned with 15.6 tonnes of general cargo. The flight was operated by Air India’s Boeing 787 aircraft(s) – VT-ANJ & VT-ANW.

April 21, 2020 – Air India relief flight to Bhubaneswar

Air India Relief Operation continues almost on an everyday basis during the lockdown period. On April 21, their Airbus A321 (VT-PPL) as AI1473 from New Delhi IGI Airport to Biju Patnaik International Airport (BBI) carrying 459 packets (5356.7 kg) of PPE (Personal protective equipment) and sanitizers that were delivered to Odisha State Medical Corporation (OSMC).

April 2020 – Air India operations to Guangzhou

VT-ANL, Boeing 787-8
Picture for Representation Purpose – VT-ANL, Boeing 787-8

In addition to the relief flights from India to Hong Kong and Shanghai, Air India Relief Operation commenced to the city of Guangzhou to bring essential relief materials. On April 16, VT-ANL operated AI3602/3603 from New Delhi IGI Airport to Guangzhou, China. The aircraft airlifted 3 lakh rapid antibody test kits that were headed to the states of Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan.

The Ambassador of India to the People’s Republic of China, Vikram Misri tweeted – 

On April 23, Air India deployed their Boeing 777-300(ER) aircrafts (VT-ALP and VT-ALQ); and on April 24, two aircraft (VT-ALJ and VT-ALQ) operated flights from DEL to CAN to pick up medical kits and PPE for #COVID19.

Three Air India/Blue Dart flights over the last two days have lifted more than 80 tons of cargo bringing 1 million sets of protective goggles from Guangzhou to Delhi | Appreciate assistance of Civil Aviation Authority of China and MFA_China.”, said Vikram Misri on his latest tweet.

We are extremely thankful to Capt. Ajit Ojha who operated the aircraft VT-ALQ on DEL-CAN-DEL for keeping us informed of this flight. Here’s a picture shared by Capt. Ajit on his personal Instagram page –

Air India Relief Operation

Wrapping Up

Overall, Air India has been doing a fantastic job during these crisis situations and many a times, these efforts go unnoticed. This is not the first of such relief flights operated by the airline. Air India has operated evacuation flights to Kuwait, Yemen, Syria during crisis situations to get back stranded citizens. It’s great to see the efforts from the Air India family and the Government backing them up with the best-in-class medical infrastructure to tackle this grave situation.

Great job Air India! Every Indian is proud of you. Jai Hind ! 

What are your thoughts about Air India’s relief flights during this crisis situation? Share your opinions in the comments section below.

**All stats and information are used from articles published online.
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31 thoughts on “The Airline That Won A Million Hearts for Operating COVID-19 Relief Flights”

  1. Well researched & summarised! This shall really motivate all Air Indians who are managing the day to day operations during Covid-19. Kudos Team Air India!

    • Ofcourse, Raunaq! The entire idea behind this was to Thank them and motivate them for the good work they have been doing all this while which wasn’t appreciated by anyone. 🙂

  2. A really good article. Kudos to Air India’s staff for doing an amazing job. Really feeling proud to be an Indian .

  3. I think it’s unfair to think create the notion that air india is the only airline assisting during this time. Why haven’t you mentioned anything about blue dart and spice express still operating cargo flights during this time to get medical equipment where it needs to be? Or how all the airlines have actually told the government they’re ready to operate relief flights? IndiGo operated a delhi to jodhpur flight for citizens who were evacuated from Iran. Why turn a blind eye to all these efforts? Moreover no other Indian carrier has the aircrafts to operate direct flights to Europe and carry a higher amount of passengers at the same time. The simple fact remains that air india is a government owned airline and it is expected to operate when the government needs it to rather than the government chartering private carrier aircrafts. Don’t get me wrong, it takes courage to operate these flights and what they’re doing is amazing. But to put air india up on this pedestal and make it look like the rest of the Indian airlines are doing nothing is completely wrong.

    • No one is saying that only Air India is doing. While this article mainly focused on efforts that Air India has been taking in mass evacuation is something that is getting highlighted. Well even after a lockdown, Nationals from other countries are being sent back by Air India and they have readily agreed. Who says airline do not have planes to operate till Europe? I am sure airlines in India have Airbus A321neo, Airbus A320neo and Boeing 787-9 which can surely be used but which aren’t. Also, agree airlines like IndiGo an SpiceJet operated a flight to Jodhpur but is that the only thing which is the need of the hour? I am sure a cargo airline like Blue Dart or SpiceExpress can easily fly to Hong Kong and Shanghai and get the necessary relief materials. Concluding, it’s not about just this time, well in the past, we all know who was always in the forefront for such evauation and relief missions. Jai Hind!

      • Reread my comment. Flying into Europe cannot be done on narrowbody aircrafts without a technical refuelling stop WHICH WOULD COST MORE as opposed to flying direct. Furthermore, narrowbody aircrafts in the country can only handle upto approx 180-220 pax which is far lesser than the widebodies being used. Bringing in vistara’s 787, they are still undergoing approval to prove they can operate the 787 safely. My point being, to say that air india has only been helping is far from the truth.

        • He is giving credit where credit is due. They have done a fantastic job and kudos to them. This doesn’t mean others haven’t. There is no need to get so touchy. And moreover the effort that AI has put in over the last few decades in service to the citizens in times of crisis obviously overshadows anything the private players have done so far. But a good start by a few of them.

  4. A big salute to the Air India family. And am so proud of my neice Dhanya Mohan , cabin crew, who has been fearlessly been part of the mission. She flew on the Frankfurt sector and i can imagine how proud she mustve felt fir working for Air india. To all members of AirIndia family a big thank-you for your selfless service. God bless you all.

  5. It has been really a fantastic call to duty . Basically what is always said 4 th arm of defence evacuation has been immaculately achieved by air Indians . Of course there is a battery of guys involved at each stage but it has been a national effort from all sides and that is fantastic

  6. Proud of my niece Dhanya Mohan and Air India!
    The news above regarding the relief flights where Air India’s crew have been working selflessly makes me proud to be an Indian too!

  7. Reread my comment. Flying into Europe cannot be done on narrowbody aircrafts without a technical refuelling stop WHICH WOULD COST MORE as opposed to flying direct. Furthermore, narrowbody aircrafts in the country can only handle upto approx 180-220 pax which is far lesser than the widebodies being used. Bringing in vistara’s 787, they are still undergoing approval to prove they can operate the 787 safely. My point being, to say that air india has only been helping is far from the truth.

  8. Dude read the title! The airline that won a MILLION HEARTS! We all know that Indigo and Spicejet has done a few flights to help ! But Air India is doing this since a long long time! Also this article is onlg bout AIR INDIA! Not any other LCC! Even my aunt Capt Rima Naik flew on the 77W for rescue flights!
    So i hope you understand what i say!This article is only on AIR INDIA!!!!

  9. Govt of India should stop thinking of selling air India. This airline is a national asset and has always been in the forefront during any crisis.

  10. We salute Air India crew. Yes ofcourse they are doing the nation proud in a time such as this.
    But so did others :
    # The Indian Air Force
    # Indigo
    # cargo operators
    # Non scheduled operators for casualty evacuation / ambulance flights
    # Pawan Hans continues to fly it’s helicopters in Jammu and Kashmir.
    # Several operators continue to maintain the lifeline to ONGC offshore oil rigs and platforms heli-lifting men and material.
    # A helicopter crew from Bangalore flew life saving medicines to a remote area in Kerala.

    The nation salutes all of them. In fact all citizens of the country.

    • Hi! We never said that Air India is the only one to take such operations. The whole purpose of this article is to showcase the insights of only Air India. We are just highlighting what Air India has been doing. It’s an independent article. Hope you now understand the context of this post.

  11. The only problem is that the Maharajah is remembered only in times of crisis. When the Stormy weather clears it’s long forgotten and everyone starts to comment on the Maharajah’s existence on doles from the government. Nevertheless the benevolent Maharajah has not lost his pride and would be there for the welfare of his precious country men under thick and thin with a twirl of his moustache.

  12. Govt. is beating the dead by making Air India run without money on all these flights. Would appreciate if the same ministers and PM provide a lakh crore cash injection and fix Air India issues once for all. After all 15 times that money is written off from bank loans in the last 10 years for various cheating businessman.

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