Abandoned airports, limited flight operations and dwindling cash reserves. A grim sight for commercial aviation. But despite all the doom and gloom, airlines worldwide have pulled a tremendous repatriation effort, bringing in thousands of people home from abroad.
Cause for Concern
However, the safety of pilots and crew members is a concerning factor. Recent cases of crew members contracting the disease have highlighted some loopholes in the proper implementation of SOPs.
For instance, earlier this month, the Air Lines Pilot Association (ALPA) reported that an astounding 48 Delta Air Lines pilots tested positive for COVID-19. Likewise, 41 American Airlines pilots and 100 flight attendants became infected, according to the pilot union.
Other regions also paint a similar picture. Last week, another PIA pilot in Pakistan fell victim to the coronavirus after returning from a repatriation flight to Canada. Inside sources also report that Air India is providing sub-standard PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment) to flight crews, which deteriorate with continued use.
Other than safety concerns, the logistical side of repatriation flights is an added headache for pilots. They say:
The nightmare part comes in the organisation. For example, our flights to get respiratory devices from China etc can come up against a mountain of bureaucracy – things like overfly permits, permission to land in a destination and alternate aerodromes, insurance for aircraft and crew, and also things like where the crew will stay when they get there. There are a lot of governments working together to get it to work
The Bright Side
Repatriation flights have also given pilots a sense of purpose when flying. Their bravery and efforts in these testing times are commendable. In fact, in most airlines, the number of candidates who want to fly these special flights exceeds the number of spots available. It also gives them the chance to fly new routes and visit places they may never have explored.
Call for Action
Pilots are naturally more susceptible to the virus owing to their work nature and exposure to potential carriers among passengers. But by taking proper precautionary measures, airlines can severely mitigate the risks posed to them. Although these are challenging times, pilots have stepped up to the occasion and are fearlessly operating repatriation flights; united friends and families with their loved ones. To allow them to continue on this noble mission, governments and airlines must prioritize their safety and work together to enable better logistical handling.
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