From the first Vande Bharat Mission to bring back Indians from abroad amid a pandemic in May last year to the first fully vaccinated international crew flying out of India by Air India Express, it has been a long and uncertain journey for aviation crews but finally, the landing lights are in sight.
The low-cost arm of India's flag carrier on Friday operated the country's first international flight with a fully COVID-19 vaccinated crew. Flight IX 191 flew from Delhi at 10:40 am for Dubai with the pilots and all crew fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
"Captain DR Gupta and Captain Alok Kumar Nayak captained the flight with cabin crew members Venkat Kella, Praveen Chandra, Pravin Chougle and Manisha Kamble. The same crew operated the return flight IX 196, on the Dubai-Jaipur- Delhi sector," the airline said.
Captain Alok Kumar Nayak said, "This is the first international flight from India with fully and finally vaccinated crew on board. AI Express has operated more than 7,000 Vande Bharat missions. All flights have pre-flight and post-flight tests."
With the death of at least 17 pilots in India because of COVID-19 or related complications since the beginning of the pandemic, the Federation of Indian Pilots have sought frontline status for Air Transportation Workers and have filed a petition in court.
Some of their families had spoken to NDTV on the urgent need to ensure vaccines.
"She (our daughter) doesn't know yet. She is waiting for her father to come back. Look at her face. We are a family that has been associated with Air India for three generations. If only he was vaccinated, we would not have been this destroyed," Mridusmita Das Tiwari, wife of Captain Harsh Tiwari, said.
Air India Express said that they have vaccinated almost all eligible crew members and frontline staff with at least one vaccine dose - not only to ensure their safety and health but also to make their passengers feel safe and reassured as they fly with them.