A total of 68 Air India crew members, who were part of the two special flights that evacuated 647 Indians and seven Maldivians from coronavirus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan, were handed over letters of appreciation signed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi today.
Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri handed over the letters of appreciation to each crew member in a ceremony held in New Delhi.
Air India conducted its first special flight to Wuhan on January 31 using jumbo B747 plane, evacuating 324 Indians. In its second special flight on February 1, the national carrier used another B747 plane, evacuating 323 Indians and seven Maldivians from Wuhan in China.
"Today's gathering is unique in many respects. At the least, it represents a template and a new high in professionalism. It presents a very good standard for entities that are commercial in nature but are dedicated to the country."
"Air India has always been a first class asset. Today, it is an airline which goes 42 international destinations and 82 domestic destinations...but more important than that, Air India represents quality and excellence," Mr Puri said.
The centre has initiated the process to sell-off Air India, which incurred a loss of over Rs 8,000 crore in 2018-19. Why is it that the ones who run the airlines find it difficult to make money, he asked, adding that airlines all over the world have a greater propensity to run into financial problems.
Rajeev Bansal, Chairman and Managing Director, Air India, said, "Air India is a national carrier and serving for the national cause is not something new for it. It is in its DNA."
"It was a commendable job. I would obviously commend Captain Amitabh Singh who is in charge of operations at Air India," he added. He said while 68 people have received letters of appreciation from the Prime Minister, there were many others who contributed to the Wuhan evacuation.
Ashwani Lohani, who retired as Air India Chief Managing Director (CMD) last Friday, said when the names of crew members were shortlisted, not even one of them came forward to say that we would not go.
"We are extremely proud that the team of Air India went for this mission in utter disregard for their own health....I can only say that it was a job well done," he added.