A Moscow-bound A320neo returned to New Delhi after a pilot tested positive for COVID-19. The aircraft was just under three hours into the flight from Delhi to Moscow when the plane turned around on May 30th
A COVID-19 positive pilot causes a diversion
NDTV reports that an A320neo was forced to turn around mid-flight after the ground team realized the pilot was a COVID-19 patient. In a statement provided to NDTV on May 30th, Air India stated the following:
“Air India this morning recalled its aircraft operating Delhi-Moscow without passengers immediately when it was noticed that one of the cockpit crew had tested positive in the pre-flight COVID-19 test. On return, immediately after landing, all cockpit and cabin crew have been tested and all laid down medical precautions are being taken to ensure their health and safety. Another aircraft has taken off today to operate the Vande Bharat flight for Moscow to Delhi.”
Air India conducts at least 200 coronavirus tests a day in Delhi. Crews are required to take these tests before operating a flight. Air India processes the results itself. There appeared to be a lapse in the process. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) will investigate the incident.
The A320neo departed shortly before 07:30 local time in Delhi. The aircraft tracked north over Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, after entering Uzbekistan, the plane flew for some time before making a U-turn– just under three hours into the flight. Then, the aircraft tracked back, held for a bit over Pakistan, and then landed in New Delhi a little over five hours after taking off.
The aircraft involved in this flight was registered as VT-EXR per data from Flightradar24. The jet itself is just over one year old. Air India has 27 A320neos in its fleet. Most of them fly short-haul domestic and medium-haul international hops. According to Airbus, the A320neo has a range of about 6,300 kilometers or just over 3,900 miles. Delhi to Moscow is about 4,300 kilometers or about 2,670 miles– in range for an A320neo.
Moscow is not a regular destination for Air India. However, from Moscow, Aeroflot operates flights to India. Aeroflot flies to both Mumbai and Delhi from its hub at Moscow-Sheremetyevo. The Delhi route sees Airbus A330 and A350 service from Aeroflot.
Why was Air India flying to Moscow?
Air India was flying this aircraft to Moscow, where it would pick up passengers heading home to India. This is part of the massive repatriation effort called the Vande Bharat mission. Air India’s aircraft have been readily available and flying many of the repatriation flights. Some destinations where India has flown to or will operate to as part of this effort include South Korea, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden, the United States, Ukraine, the UAE, Kyrgyzstan, the United Kingdom, Tajikistan, and others.
Air India sent another Airbus A320neo to fly the passengers back. VT-EXQ arrived with a bit of a delay. However, the aircraft was able to bring Indian nationals back home.