By Ashoke Raj
New Delhi [India], April 5 (ANI): Air India recently found a rather unexpected praise from an Air Traffic Controller (ATC) of Pakistan.
Air India was operating special flights from India to Frankfurt with relief materials and evacuated European nationals, who were stranded in India as coronavirus swept across continents, perishing millions and crippling the system of passenger planes crisscrossing the world.
"It was a very proud moment for me as well as the entire Air India crew when we heard Pakistan ATC praising our special flight operations to Europe," one of the senior captains of the special flights told exclusively to ANI.
"As we entered in Pakistan's Flight Information Region (FIR), the Pakistan Air Traffic Controller (ATC) greeted us 'Assalaam Alaikum!' This is Karachi's control welcoming Air India for relief flights to Frankfurt," the senior captain quoted the Pakistan ATC as saying.
"Confirm are you operating relief flights for Frankfurt," the Pak ATC further said.
"AFFIRM," said the Air India captain in Pakistan's airspace.
"You are cleared direct to exit point Kebud request estimate crossing Kebud (Exit)," came a response from the ATC.
Air India captain replied, saying "Cleared direct Kebud, Thank you."
After this, 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 captain of India's national carrier.
Furthermore, when the AI captain, who commanded the special flights, asked the Pakistan ATC that he is not getting the next radar for the Iran airspace, Pakistan conveyed the Indian jet's position to the Tehran airspace and provided details of the two AI special flights.
Many crew members of AI's Boeing-777 and Boeing 787 were deployed for the special evacuation flights for European and Canadian citizens from Mumbai and Delhi.
Before taking off from Mumbai airport, the ATC there, besides giving permission praised the national carrier's efforts amidst the crisis, saying "we are proud of you".
The Captain also replied back stating that they were also proud of working with the ATC and all other services as a sign of mutual respect.
After Pakistan airspace, the special AI flight entered Iran. As the captain told ANI, it had never happened before in his entire pilot career that the Middle East country had given a direct route of over 1000 miles.
"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 a direct route to any of airlines because the direct route of Iran airspace is strictly kept reserve 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 into the Turkey airspace and then Germany's. "All ATCs from Bombay to Frankfurt welcomed the special flights of Air India and wished us very proudly," the Captain said.
The two special Air India flights flew out stranded European and Canadian citizens from Mumbai. All crew members including the pilots 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.
To prevent of the spread of COVID-19 virus, India has announced a 21-days lockdown with no passenger air and rail traffic, leaving many of foreign nationals stranded in several parts of the country. (ANI)