By Raju Vernekar
Mumbai, April 7
The Union Civil Aviation Ministry has began “Mission Lifeline UDAN” under which Air India, Alliance Air, IAF, Pawan Hans and other private carriers have began operating special cargo flights across the country to provide relief amid the coronavirus crisis.
“Mission Lifeline UDAN” is a government initiative for air transport of medical cargo and essential supplies at the time of the Covid-19 crisis. The first cargo flight between India and China was operated by Air India on April 4, carrying 21 tons of critical medical supplies from China and till now over 116 flights have been operated under the mission.
According to the Union Civil Aviation Ministry, within a short span of time, these planes transported around 161 MT cargo covering aerial distance of over 1,12,178 kms. Besides a portal for coordinating Lifeline Udan flights has been developed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC) and the Ministry of Civil Aviation. The NIC developed a website for Lifeline Udan flights within a record time of three days to enable coordination between various agencies.
The website allows state governments and airlines to upload their consignment and flights details respectively, in advance. The aviation ministry control room then assigns the cargo consignments to different flights and coordinates with multiple stakeholders till the consignment reaches its destination, a spokesman for the ministry said.
On the international front, the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Air India have been working closely with China to establish a cargo air-bridge between the two countries for the transfer of critical medical supplies.
The urgent demand for medical equipment to fight coronavirus has kept the cargo crew busy while domestic and international passenger flights are banned till April 14 to check the spread of Covid-19. The only passenger flights that have departed from Indian airports are special relief flights to carry stranded foreigners abroad.
The lifeline UDAN cargo includes Covid-19 related reagents, enzymes, medical equipment, testing kits, personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, gloves and other accessories required by corona warriors across the country. The bulk of the cargo planes have carried both light-weight and voluminous products and other consumables, that require more space on the aircraft per ton.
The Lifeline Udan flights connect hubs in locations like Guwahati, Dibrugarh, Agartala, Aizwal, Dimapur, Imphal, Coimbatore, Trivandrum, Bhubaneswar, Raipur, Ranchi, Port Blair and Goa. Special focus has been on the North East Region (NER), island territories and the hill states and the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Air India and IAF have been collaborating closely for last-mile deliveries to Ladakh and other areas.
The ministry has granted special permission to store cargo in the passenger seating area and overhead cabins, with due precautions. The Lifeline Udan flights are being operated despite significant logistical challenges in road transportation of cargo to and from airports; production bottlenecks and in the movement of aviation personnel.
Apart from the government-owned carriers, domestic cargo operators SpiceJet, Blue Dart and Indigo are also operating cargo flights on a commercial basis. The flights operated include: Air India and Alliance Air (79 flights), Spicejet (153 flights), Blue Dart (48 flights) and Indigo ( 5 flights).