Centre plans to ‘airlift’ oxygen supplies

TE Raja Simhan Chennai | Updated on April 16, 2021

Oxygen cylinders when carried on commercial planes are allowed if they comply with ICAO norms   -  AFP

This has not been done before given the risk involved

As shortage of medical oxygen worsens in States like Maharashtra due to spiralling Covid-19 cases, the government is exploring options of airlifting them in large quantities.

However, this is easier said than done as transporting oxygen in large quantities by air has not been done before due to its hazardous nature and rules do not permit private airlines to do so. Defence aircraft could well come to the rescue.

Carriage instructions

Reliable sources said that there are already talks in this regard in the government even as Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday sought Centre’s nod for Indian Air Force assistance to transport oxygen. When asked if oxygen could be airlifted soon, a senior official at Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said, “Hopefully.”

Oxygen cylinders when carried on commercial aircraft are permissible for air carriage subject to full compliance of the applicable Dangerous Goods Regulations as mandated by ICAO Technical Instructions and The Aircraft (Carriage of Dangerous Goods) Rules, 2003. “DGCA has no objection to their transport by air provided these are being transported under the above-stated Rules and Regulations,” he added.

Elaborating on the complications involved in transporting oxygen by air, B Govindarajan, Chief Operating Officer, Tirwin Management Services (P) Ltd, which provides training on handling dangerous goods, said the ICAO Annex 18 Technical Instructions classifies oxygen as dangerous commodity transportation of which is regulated.

Though it can be transported by air both in passenger and or freighter airplanes, the maximum quantity allowed is only 75kg and 150kg for passenger and freighter aircraft, respectively.

Defence to help?

With such small permissible quantities, commercial aircrafts will not be in a position to help. That leaves only the defence aircrafts. Will they be given permission to airlift oxygen?

“The Aircraft Rules, 1937 and The Aircraft (Carriage of Dangerous Goods) Rules, 2003 do not apply to military aircraft,” the official said. That leaves the ball in the government’s court.

Govindarajan said that the authorities can explore the opportunities to move large quantities on priority basis in intermediate bulk containers meant for gas transportation and also portable tanks that can accommodate thousands of tonnes and transport them on defence aircraft.

Published on April 15, 2021

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