The Vande Bharat Mission (VBM), which started repatriating Indians stranded abroad due to COVID-19 and the resultant lockdowns since May 7 last, has turned out to be one of the largest evacuations of civilians by a country.
Into the middle of Phase 10, the VBM has surpassed the large-scale airlift of 1,10,000 people in 1990 at the onset of the Gulf War. Till now, the Air India (AI) Group has operated 11,523 inbound flights to carry 18,19,734 passengers and 11,528 outbound flights and 13,68, 457 passengers. National carrier Air India, which carried out the bulk of air transfers under the mission, was supported by its budget carrier Air India Express.
The first phase of the VBM, which lasted 11 days from May 7 to 17, was aimed at destinations with high concentration of Indians. As many as 64 inbound and outbound flights each were operated by the AI group to carry 12,708 and 3,562 passengers respectively. The lengthiest was VBM VI and VII lasting 61 days each.
The current VBM Phase 10 has international and domestic schedules operating till October 31. Of these, 373 are international flights from the country and another 376 are flights from abroad. Patronage has come down in the VBM flights these days as there is a spurt in COVID-19 cases in the country and many countries of late, airline sources told The Hindu .
Cargo only flights
Air India Express (AIE) used its B-737-800 fleet to lift agricultural products, mainly fruits and vegetables, to West Asian countries, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The airline also chartered some of the 24 flights in the fleet as ‘cargo only flights’ to ship fruits and vegetables, the most sought-after items among the NRI Indians. Besides, helping rural farmers and the NRIs, the aim was to keep the supply chain intact.
“Transport bubbles” or “air travel arrangements”, temporary arrangements between two countries aimed at restarting commercial passenger services when regular international flights are suspended as a result of the pandemic, are in place.
Reciprocal in nature, airlines from both countries enjoy similar benefits. Such arrangements had been established with Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Canada, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Iraq, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Maldives, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Russia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Tanzania, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Uzbekistan.