Air India pilots who have flown to various parts of the world to bring back Indians who were stranded because of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic have written to Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri complaining about the poor quality of protective gear that they have been provided on their flights.
"Our pilots and cabin crew are being provided substandard, ill-fitting and flimsy Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that tear/disintegrate easily on rescue flights," the letter, accessed by NDTV, said.
"Sanitisers are not provided in sufficient quantities and disinfection processes are short of industry best practices," it added.
The pilots have requested for better medical care in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak.
"...every resource of the AI medical services that currently exists (e.g. doctors, ambulances, infrastructure) be made available 24x7 to support the flying crew and their families for consultations, coordination with respective State Health Depts, COVID testing and treatment - as may be required for affected crew members should such a need occur. This is the minimum level of support expected from an organisation that sends its employees to a bio-hazard frontline," the letter said.
"There is no additional insurance policy for our pilots or cabin crew to cover any COVID-19 related risk," it added.
"Our flying related allowances, comprising 70% of our total emoluments, remain unpaid since January 2020," the letter said.
"To add insult to injury , we have also recently been informed by our management of a substantial pay cut, while in the midst of the above mentioned COVID rescue operations!" it added.
However, Air India management told NDTV that all possible measures have been taken towards the health and safety of the crew as "safety is paramount to us at Air India".
"Best available Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are procured for our crew including masks, gloves, apron, hazmat suits, sanitizers. Aircraft are fumigated and disinfected as per Ministry and Manufacturers SOP," the management said.
Air India added stringent measures have been deployed to protect the health of employees. "All crew having done international flights have been home quarantined. All have been advised to self-isolate should they develop any symptoms and report immediately," it said.
Air India has flown several evacuation flights since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, including to China's Wuhan and Rome in Italy to rescue Indians stranded overseas.
Since their return, many have also complained that they have been ostracised by their communities for fear of spreading the infection that has affected over 1,000 people in India and killed at least 29.