Air India’s Boeing 747 Wuhan Evacuation Flight Put On Hold


Air India is preparing for an emergency dash to Wuhan to evacuate Indian citizens from the city. Many Indians, mostly medical students, are stranded in Wuhan after Chinese officials closed off the city following an outbreak of coronavirus.

Air India is reportedly standing ready to send a 747 to Wuhan to evacuate Indian nationals. Photo: Himmat Rathore via Wikimedia Commons.

The evacuation flight depends on the Chinese government giving it the go-ahead. But a meeting by senior government officials in India has paved the way for a request being made.

India’s move accords with a push by several countries to get its citizens away from Wuhan.  The USA is setting the pace. It is chartering a Boeing 767 to evacuate consulate personnel and private US citizens. That flight is expected to take place today, Tuesday 28 January 2020.

Confusion around when and if the flight will happen

Indian media is reporting on the attempt to bring its citizens home. But there is considerable uncertainty about when, and even if, the flight will occur. A statement released by the Indian government yesterday said;

“It was decided that steps may be taken to prepare for the possible evacuation of Indian nationals in Wuhan. Accordingly, the ministry of external affairs will make a request to the Chinese authorities.”

Note the wording in this statement. An evacuation flight may possibly happen.

It is yet to be confirmed that the evacuation flight will go ahead. Photo: Tom Boon / Simple Flying.

A report by Aditya Anand in The Hindu suggests some government officials and Air India have jumped the gun a little. Air India had scheduled an evacuation flight late afternoon yesterday, Monday 27 January 2020.

That flight was put on hold. It appears that while the Indian government was broadly supportive of the flight ahead, neither India’s civil aviation authority nor the Chinese government had granted permission for the flight.

An official from India’s Directorate-General of Civil Aviation said no permission to operate the evacuation flight had been sought or granted.


Uncertainty over management of health and wellbeing on the aircraft

And while Air India reportedly had a crew on standby, media reports suggest there were unresolved issues surrounding the health and wellbeing of passengers and crew on the flight.

Despite this, Air India said they were good to go, placing a Boeing 747 on standby. An Air India spokesperson said yesterday;

“We are in a state of preparedness. Our crew, medical teams, and supplies are ready for the flight. But Wuhan is in a state of lockdown and services there are hit.”

The protocols and processes governing the health and wellbeing of passengers and crew have been questioned. Photo: US Department of Homeland Security.

According to The Hindu report, it was uncertain whether Air India’s medical teams included doctors.

China keen to prevent the outbreak from spreading

Critical to the entire operation getting off the ground is China’s okay for the flight to go ahead. At the time of writing, there is no evidence that okay has been given.

China has been widely praised for its swift and decisive response to the coronavirus outbreak. While countries are reportedly approaching China for permission to get their citizens out of Wuhan, it clearly isn’t open slather.

Given China’s obvious desire to contain the outbreak, it may be looking at the ability of applicant countries to operate effective quarantine facilities and monitor passengers on evacuation flights for some time after they have landed.

Wuhan is in lockdown and permission is needed to operate flights out. Photo: Yu Hui via Wikimedia Commons

Like many countries, India has been stepping up to prevent the spread of coronavirus amongst its citizens. Over the weekend, Indian health authorities said they had screened 29,707 passengers from 137 flights. On Sunday 26 January, 4,359 passengers from 22 flights were screened.

Whilst no cases of coronavirus had been detected amongst those screened, some 100 people were been kept “under observation” in Kerala and Maharashtra following possible exposure.

In the meantime, the Air India 747 and its 12 person crew remains on standby. Simple Flying has approached Air India for an update on their evacuation plans but has not heard back before publication.