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Special, cargo flights dot Indian airspace in times of coronavirus outbreak


New Delhi, Mar 27: Indian airspace might not be buzzing now but special flights are dotting the sky, with various overseas carriers operating services to ferry foreign nationals stranded in India in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

Special, cargo flights dot Indian airspace in times of coronavirus outbreak

Besides, flights are being operated on domestic routes carrying cargo, including medical equipment, to various places. In the last few days, at least half-a-dozen special flights have been operated by carriers from various countries, including Japan and Russia, from the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) here, according to an airport official.

As India is under a 21-day lockdown to curb spreading of coronavirus infections, domestic and international flights have been suspended till April 14. Only cargo flights as well as those flights approved by aviation watchdog DGCA are allowed to operate in the country. More than 700 people have tested positive for coronavirus and the infection has claimed at least 17 lives. At least half-a-dozen special flights have been operated by carriers from various countries, including Japan and Russia, to ferry back foreign nationals from here since March 24, the Delhi airport official said.

On March 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a complete lockdown for 21 days as part of efforts to curb spreading of coronavirus infections. The same day, Russia's Aeroflot departed with around 300 Russians from the IGIA. The same day, a Mahan Air flight from Iran had landed with about 280 passengers, as per the official.

The next day, there were at least three international flights that carried a total of around 795 people from India. While Japan Airlines ferried 297 people, Ukraine's SkyUp and German carrier Lufthansa carried 98 and 500 people, respectively.

According to the official, Air India operated a special flight to Tel Aviv on March 26 carrying about 300 Israelis from India while Austrian Air ferried around 175 people. A chartered flight to Sharjah with 140 people onboard was also operated on Thursday, the official added. "A special flight leaving for Sofia, #Bulgaria from #DelhiAirport!," Delhi airport said in a tweet on Friday.

On the domestic front, many cargo flights are being operated to ferry medical equipment and other essential items. Alliance Air, part of Air India group, operated services on Mumbai-Pune-Bengaluru-Delhi route with medical equipment on Friday. Besides, a cargo flight carrying medical equipment and other essential items was also operated by the national carrier. The flight on Delhi-Aizwal-Kolkata-Hyderabad-Delhi route had 1.8 tonne of cargo, an Air India official said.

The official also said the airline operated a Boeing aircraft on Mumbai-Delhi route that had 6.9 tonne of medical equipment. Airports Authority of India (AAI) Chairman Arvind Singh said that since passenger flights are shut, it is now focusing on cargo, medical and relief flights. AAI manages around 137 airports and 107 of them are operational, according to its spokesperson.

On a normal day, thousands of flights, both domestic and international, operate in India. The maximum number of flights in a day are handled by IGIA, which is also the country's largest aerodrome. Aviation watchdog DGCA, on Thursday, said that all scheduled international commercial passenger services would remain closed till 1830 hours GMT on April 14.

However, this restriction would not apply to international all-cargo operations and flights specifically approved by DGCA, the circular had said. Domestic services have been suspended till 2359 hours on April 14, the regulator said in a circular on Friday.

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