2L stuck abroad to be brought home; fee Rs 50K from Europe, Rs 1L from US
As many as two lakh Indians stranded abroad amid coronavirus crisis and lockdown will be brought back by air and sea route from Thursday. The national carrier Air India will operate 64 flights between May 7 and 13 to bring back Indians stranded abroad. Those taking the special flights will be charged around Rs 50,000 from Europe and Rs 1 lakh from the USA.
Military transport planes and naval warships will also set out for Indians stuck in West Asia and the Maldives. This could be biggest ever exercise since Air India flew back 1,70,000 during the first Gulf War.
In the first phase, Air India will conduct all evacuation flights but as the numbers grow, private airlines will also be allowed to conduct such flights.
Sharing more information through video-conferencing, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said, Air India will operate 64 flights from May 7 to May 13 to bring back around 15,000 Indian nationals stranded abroad amid the Covid-19-induced lockdown.
“A passenger on a London-Delhi flight will be charged Rs 50,000 and on a Dhaka-Delhi flight Rs 12,000,” the Minister said. “A comprehensive plan has been drawn out for distressed citizens stranded in foreign countries. These include people whose visas have run out or they are deported or they went to (foreign) countries just before the lockdown. This is a special mission,” the Minister said.
These 64 flights would be conducted by Air India and its subsidiary Air India Express to repatriate Indians from 12 countries such as the UAE, the UK, the US, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.
India will conduct 10 flights to the UAE, seven flights each to the US and the UK, five flights to Saudi Arabia, five flights to Singapore and two flights to Qatar to repatriate Indian nationals between May 7 and May 13, the Minister said. During this time period, India will also conduct seven flights each to Malaysia and Bangladesh, five flights each to Kuwait and Philippines, two flights each to Oman and Bahrain, Puri said.
According to Puri, the Government has received interest from about 1,90,000 people who are willing to come back to the country. But the numbers would be much higher at around 4,00,000.
The Minister said that the money charged from passengers would be lower than the cost of carrying these passengers. He added that the Air India is already receiving Government subsidies to stay afloat, and hence it would strain the national carrier further if these passengers are subsidised by the Government.
“I have to go to Finance Minister every month to seek Rs 500-600 crore of financial package for Air India,” the Minister said. Puri said these flights are conducted on the basis of requests received from potential passengers who are willing to pay. If these evacuation flights are kept free, then people who can afford to pay will also unintentionally benefit.
On the first day of evacuation on May 7, 10 flights will bring back 2,300 Indians stranded because of airspace closures by various countries to slow the spread of coronavirus. Depending on the aircraft, each flight will have between 200 and 300 passengers to ensure social distancing.
The three ships deployed by the Navy are INS Shardul, INS Magar and INS Jalashwa. The INS Jalashwa, based in Visakhapatnam, has steamed into the Arabian Sea for the mission.
The Indian Air Force has prepared about 30 aircraft, including Boeing Co.’s C-17 Globemaster and Lockheed Martin Corp.’s C-130J Super Hercules, for the mission.
Wednesday, 06 May 2020 | Rajesh Kumar | New Delhi
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