The government has relaxed a rule which made it mandatory for airline crew to home quarantine for 14 days if they a Covid-19 positive case was found in their aircraft.
Diluting the rule, the government has left it to the discretion of the airline on what steps to be followed in such a case. The dilution was done by Ministry of Health after airlines raised concerns that they were running short of crew as number of coronavirus cases detected among air passengers increased. “Significant number of crew were becoming non-operational due to the quarantine rules,” Ministry of Civil Aviation wrote to the Ministry of Health on June 3.
The airlines will now do their own risk assessment of the crew and decide on whether to quarantine them or not.
“It has been noted that airline crew are wearing full PPE, including N95 mask during time of the flight. Further the crew is also not serving any food or snacks to the passengers. The passengers also undergo mandatory screening and have to wear mask throughout the flight. Hence possible risk of infection of crew from passenger is minimal,” joint secretary at Ministry of Health Alok Saxena wrote justifying the decision.
Industry sources said that both Air India and private airline lobby group Federation of Indian Airlines had approached the Ministry of Civil Aviation seeking a relaxation of the rule. “On confirmation that the passenger has been tested positive, the crew will be directed for consultation with govt designated hospitals and continue to be under home isolation for 14 days and observe for symptoms,” the earlier direction said.
Airline executives said that such a rule created hindrance in operations as on most days coronavirus positive cases were detected in multiple flight of the same airline. “There was a day when six positive cases were found in six different flights of IndiGo. While there were just 6 passengers, 36 crew were quarantined for 14 days. This created massive operational problems,” said an airline executive.
Things became more complex with simultaneous operation of domestic, repatriation flights and international charters. It is mandatory for crew to be undergo 5 days of quarantine after operating an international flights – repatriation or charter.
“SpiceJet and Go Air have sent a large number of crew on Leave Without Pay thinking that with smaller scale of operations, they will not need so many crew. But the quarantine rules forced them to call back some of the crew,” a second executive said.
This increased the cost of operation as airlines operating less number of flights required a large pool of crew. “This decision by the government will bring down the requirement of crew for airlines and lead to some cost savings,” the executive said.
However, many crewmembers expressed apprehensions over this decision saying that it increased the chances of spread of infection. “This decision is very good for the company. But personally I am tense. What if a crew gets infected from a passenger and is not showing symptoms immediately. He or she may spread the disease further,” a pilot flying for a private airline said.