India and Pakistan have always been at each other’s throat since their independence in 1947 and have not wasted a single opportunity to take a dig at each other. However few days back India’s national carrier Air India received an unexpected praise for its relief operations – from Air Traffic Controller (ATC) of Pakistan.
As the world tirelessly battles to contain coronavirus pandemic that has seen air operations around the world suspended, Air India has continued to evacuate foreign nationals trapped in India ever since the lockdown began
On April 2, Air India operated two special flights – Boeing 747 and 787 from Mumbai and New Delhi for carrying out relief operations and for evacuating stranded European and Canadian citizens in its special flights to Frankfurt.
As one of these flights entered Pakistan’s Flight Information Region, the Pakistan ATC applauded the senior captain for the humanitarian effort. As one of the flights entered Pakistani airspace, the ATC greeted the captain with traditional Islamic greeting ‘Assalaam Alaikum’, according to Asian News International (ANI).
‘Assalaam Alaikum!’ This is Karachi’s control welcoming Air India for relief flights to Frankfurt,” the senior captain quoted the Pakistan ATC as saying while speaking to ANI. “Confirm are you operating relief flights for Frankfurt,” the Pak ATC further said. “Affirm,” replied the Air India captain.
“You are cleared direct to exit point Kebud request estimate crossing Kebud (Exit),” came the response from the Pakistan ATC. Air India captain replied, saying “Cleared direct Kebud, Thank you.”
After the necessary exchange of information, the Pakistan ATC showered praise on Air India. “We are proud of you that in a pandemic situation you are operating flights, Good Luck!” “Thank you so much,” responded the senior captain of Air India.
“It was a very proud moment for me as well as the entire Air India crew when we heard the Pakistan ATC praising our special flight operations to Europe,” one of the senior captains of the special flights told exclusively to ANI.
Furthermore, when the Air India captain in charge of the special flights, told the Pakistan ATC that he was not getting next radar for the Iran airspace, Pakistan ATC on their own accord conveyed the Indian jet’s position to the Tehran airspace and provided details of the two AI special flights.
Before taking off from Mumbai airport, the Mumbai ATC besides giving permission also heaped praise on the national airlines for its efforts amidst the crisis, saying “we are proud of you”. The captain in his reply also said that they were also proud of working with the ATC and all other services as a sign of mutual respect.
However, there were more surprises in the offer for the Air India flights carrying out relief operations. Iran, which was the next country in the flights’ path and known for not providing flights direct route in its airspace in fact allowed Air India a direct route of 1000 miles.
The surprised captain told ANI that such a thing had never happened before in his entire pilot career. “First time in my entire career as a pilot, Iran gave a direct routing for about 1000 miles a privilege guess enjoyed as special flights, in all especially in the recent tense situation in the Iranian airspace,” he said.
Iran has rarely given direct access to any of airlines because it is strictly reserved for their defence purposes only. Before leaving Iran airspace, the ATC there also wished us ‘all the best’,” the AI captain told to ANI.
After Iran, the AI special flights entered Turkish and German airspace. “All ATCs from Bombay to Frankfurt welcomed the special flights of Air India and wished us very proudly,” the Captain said.
All the aircrew members including the pilots involved in the special relief operations wore the mandatory Covid-19 coveralls for over 20 hours at a stretch (to/from and ground time at Frankfurt).
They will now remain in self-quarantine for 14 days. Air India has signed contracts with four countries, Germany, Canada, France, and Ireland, to charter 18 flights, to help citizens of these countries stranded in India because of the lockdown, said Air India’s chairman and managing director, Rajiv Bansal.