Air India Plane Turns Around Because Pilot Tests Positive For COVID-19

Filed Under: Air India

An Air India Airbus A320 operated a 5hr23min flight to nowhere today because a pilot tested positive for COVID-19.

Early this morning a one year old Air India Airbus A320neo with the registration code VT-EXR was supposed to operate Air India flight 1945 from Delhi to Moscow and back. This flight was supposed to bring home Indians who were stranded in Russia during this pandemic.

To date Air India has operated dozens of repatriation flights, bringing home over 45,000 Indians stuck abroad.

Roughly halfway into the flight, when the plane was over Uzbekistan, it was determined that one of the pilots had tested positive for COVID-19. At that point the plane turned around and flew back to Delhi, where it landed safely well over five hours after it departed.

The plane flew a total distance of 2,623 miles, just shy of the distance between Delhi and Moscow, which is 2,679 miles.

How exactly did this happen? Air India allegedly tests pilots for COVID-19 before they fly, and in this case the test came back positive. Ideally one would think that they’d want to get the results before a plane is already flying (because of the exact end result caused here), but I guess at the same time at least dozens of additional passengers weren’t potentially exposed to the pilot.

The entire crew operating the Air India flight is now being quarantined.

India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation will conduct a probe into the “lapse,” noting that the pilot was not supposed to be on the plane with coronavirus.

What’s not known is if Air India knew the positive test results before takeoff and there was a mix-up, or if it just takes a few hours for the company to get results, hence the pilot only finding out mid-flight (I would have assumed it was the latter).

Ideally the results would be found out before a flight departs, but I guess even finding out results afterwards at least allows the airline to determine who may have been in contact with someone.

(Tip of the hat to Neeraj)

  1. Air India came to the rescue of Indians globally in what is the largest evacuation/repatriation mission recorded. It has actually supported the repatriation of over 60,000 Indians so far. In addition, the airline has also returned thousands of foreign nationals. More than 300,000 Indians have registered to return so these repatriation flights will continue for a while.

    On a different note, the domestic airline industry restarted across India a week ago. My colleagues from BBC and I travelled between Delhi and Mumbai. We were thoroughly impressed by the organization and attention to detail to reduce the risk of contamination.

  2. “Ideally one would think that they’d want to get the results before a plane is already flying”

    Welcome to India, logic is useless here.

  3. It is absolutely bizarre if you let the pilots fly when you are still uncertain of their health results. It just makes the purpose of having such health checks useless. If it were any other airline, they would bring in pilots 6-8 hours before departure and check their health conditions. But I have read articles where people take in paracetamol so that they can pass the preliminary health check. But, given that the health results came after the pilots were in the air and were about to complete a 6.5 hour trip to Moscow, they should definitely take some precautions.

  4. What on earth was gained by turning around? They may as well have just landed in Moscow…

  5. @Ross, most of the Covid tests are highly specific, means rate of false positive is low, but they’re not very sensitive, means rate of false positive is quite high. We had people in the hospital test negative twice with Classic Covid symptoms before testing positive.

  6. According to media reports, the pilots are tested before departure, but on this occasion air India missed the positive result during pre flight checks. On realising their mistake later (when the flight was airborne), the crew were called back to Delhi.

  7. This is dumb and they should be sued. You tested the pilot and don’t wait for the result and took off , how smart is that logic? I would sue the airline for stressed me out and time lost.

  8. @Emily quick question – I am assuming from your name you are female hence my question. I spent a year living in Mumbai and flew internationally monthly. As a female when I would go through security screening I obviously went into that very small booth (not sure what to call it) for the private “pat down’. That booth is small and I don’t recall them ever changing gloves etc. Out of interest what changes have been implemented?

  9. @MDA – your assumption is indeed correct. The mandatory pat down is now performed either on a randomized basis or when the magnetic scanners register a signal above what is considered safe. The DCGA and airport authoritirs are also testing the millimeter wave scanners in Delhi and other major airports. However, as published in several earlier reports, the Indian CISF were not impressed with its detection limits and have continued to demand improvements until they are as accurate as a pat down. The entire experience was ordered and painless.

  10. @Jose – you cannot sue under the basis of humanitarian service. The passengers after not paying Air India directly for the flight and as such AI is only obligated to take actions, however ridiculous, to ensure the safety of its crew and passengers on these flights. The passengers should be glad that they are able to return home.

  11. @Emily – I thought wave scanners were superior to a pat down. I can’t imagine the horror of going through a pat down here in the DC area.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *