Since they landed in Croatia without the negative report, they were not allowed to get off the aircraft there. The two commanders and as many first officers had to spend their layover inside the aircraft in Zagreb before flying the plane back to Delhi without any passengers or cargo. SpiceJet says the crew was on board for 21 hours.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has “admonished” the airline for this lapse.
A SpiceJet official said: “Prior to departure from India, e-mail confirmation was received from Croatian authorities that RT-PCR is not required for crew. On arrival in Zagreb, crew was told that orders have changed. Due to sudden and massive increase in Covid cases in India, they have now been instructed that RT-PCR is required. This came as a surprise (to us).”
“Since crew could not fly back immediately due to flight duty time limitation restrictions, bedding, food and water was provided in the aircraft and the plane was cleaned. DGCA permission was obtained. Crew rested in aircraft for 21 hours (as mandated by regulation). They then flew back to Delhi. All crew confirmed that they were comfortable and happy with the arrangements,” the SpiceJet official said.
SpiceJet had operated flight SG-9035 on May 11 on Delhi-Tbilisi-Zagreb with two sets of pilots, meaning four pilots. As the crew had not undergone the mandatory RT-PCR test, Croatian authorities did not allow them to alight from the aircraft, said people in the know.
However, since the mandatory rest between operating two flights for crew int his case was not in a suitable environment as mandated by rules, SpiceJet then sought DGCA clearance to operate this aircraft in special conditions for mitigating this issue. Both the sets of pilots (a captain and a co-pilot making one set) operated the aircraft from Zagreb to Delhi. At all times, three pilots remained inside the cockpit. The regulator asked the airline to operate the aircraft from Zagreb without any passengers or crew, said sources.
The unfolding Covid catastrophe in India has seen some countries suddenly change their rules for crew and passengers from the country. Sometimes these changes happen when aircraft are on their way from India to those countries. In this case, SpiceJet claims Croatia first said there was no need for RT-PCR test and then changed the requirement by the time its plane landed there.
Last month, Air India had operated a special flight from Amritsar to Delhi. The crew was not supposed to undergo quarantine there and was to fly back. But as the plane flew to Rome, Italy reportedly changed rules for flyers from India. On arrivals some passengers and two crew members — all of who had negative RT-PCR test reports as per rules — tested positive. And then they all were sent for 10-day quarantine.
India is the world’s worst Covid hotspot at the moment. “Since the outbreak last year, people abroad are wary of those from hotspot countries — whether crew or passengers. Last year we used to be apprehensive of people from China and Europe. Today India is witnessing a catastrophic outbreak of Covid and we get the same vibes now abroad,” said a senior Indian pilot.