Flight Plan

Domestic aviation comes together during Covid

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on: Aug 04, 2020

The dedicated cargo flight of SpiceJet, ‘SpiceXpress’ | Photo Credit: Arranged pic

Airlines ferried essential materials needed in India and abroad and also helped stranded people fly back home

The lockdown induced by the Covid-19 pandemic saw the aviation industry change and adapt to a new normal.

The industry not only ferried medicines, PPEs (personal protective equipment) and other medical equipment that was urgently required in India and abroad, but also helped stranded foreign nationals in India to fly back home.

For Blue Dart Aviation, this meant getting its aircraft ready for international operations, and that too in less than a month. Gearing up for international operations meant avionics upgrades, including installation of advanced Flight Management Computers, multi-mode GPS receivers and ADS-B transponders.

“These upgrade the aircraft’s capability to operate in the RNP1 and ADS-B airspace. These are mandated requirements for operations in the designated airspace,” says Tulsi Mirchandaney, Managing Director, Blue Dart Aviation.

Meeting RNP airspace requirements enables a precise flight path with a high level of integrity and accuracy of one nautical mile, which is more efficient air traffic management as it helps minimise the distance, thus reducing flight duration and fuel consumption.

ADS-B improves the reliability, precision and potential of exchange of data between the ATC and the aircraft for providing real time positions determined through satellite navigation. This information is broadcast to ATC ground stations for tracking the flight, thus providing significant safety advantages both en route and in the terminal environment.

Blue Dart Aviation carried out 100 flight cycles of international charters to Guangzhou, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Dhaka and Yangon during the lockdown period.

Among the material it transported was medical and pharmaceutical supplies, including ventilators, PPEs, testing kits, reagents, enzymes, respirators, surgical masks, goggles and gloves. These were carried both within India and overseas.

In another attempt at adapting to the new normal, most Indian carriers took up the Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s offer to fly cargo on their passenger aircraft as commercial passenger flights were banned.

An IndiGo spokesperson said that the airline flew over 1,000 cargo charter flights, ferrying 7,208 tonnes of cargo.

In addition, domestic airlines also flew around the country, picking up foreign nationals and getting them to a central place from where they flew back home. For instance, Vistara operated one charter flight each on the Mumbai-Delhi, Bengaluru-Delhi and Delhi-Patna sectors during the lockdown.

Air India also operated charters from various parts of the country to bring foreign nationals to Delhi and Mumbai so that they could be ferried home. In March, Air India flew mostly German nationals stranded in various Indian cities, including Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata and Chennai to Delhi and Mumbai before transferring them on the wider Boeing 777 and Boeing 787 to fly them back to Frankfurt.

Cargo holds promise

Seeing the positives of these changes during the lockdown period, airlines are now looking at cargo as a viable option for the future as well. According to Ronojoy Dutta, Chief Executive Officer, IndiGo, the airline witnessed a great deal of potential in its cargo business. He says that to “explore this opportunity further, we have converted 10 aircraft to ‘All cargo airplanes’.”

This is not all. On June 27, SpiceJet operated its maiden cargo flight to Chad from Guangzhou via Chennai and Ras-Al-Khaimah, transporting over 12 tonnes of cargo, including medical supplies like PPE kits, gloves, masks and engineering items.

Vandana Agarwal, Senior Economic Advisor, Ministry of Civil Aviation, takes SpiceJet’s trans-shipment further and suggests that India can become a trans-shipment hub if it decides to take forward the positive experience that the lockdown during the Covid crisis led to.

Published on August 04, 2020
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