Despite a dramatic drop in global flight numbers, many airlines continue to operate both domestic and international flights. Most are repatriation/rescue flights carrying stranded citizens to their home countries. On 30th March the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office teamed up with local airlines – including British Airways, Easyjet, and Virgin Atlantic- to rescue the estimated 300,000 Britons stranded worldwide. The UK government further pledged £75m for these charter flights; where the first one is set to depart today from Algeria. A complete list of repatriation flights for the UK can be found here.
Rescue efforts in the Middle East:
Since the UAE has suspended all flight operations; Qatar airways has been at the forefront of repatriation efforts in the region (using A380s as part of their rescue fleet). Doha has become one of the few transit hubs left for many of these charter flights. Earlier the company announced its decision to schedule flights for Australia to rescue stranded Australians in Europe and the Middle East. A new route -in the form of a daily service to Brisbane- has also opened up for the airline. Simon Talling-Smith, Chief Commercial Officer of Qatar Airways stated: “We’ve made this our core mission right now, to get people home.”
As for the UAE carrier, Emirates has been fixated on consolidating its freighter operations to allow even more cargo flights. Yesterday, the carrier relocated their freighter operations to the Dubai International Airport in an attempt to ‘streamline’ their cargo services. The airline has also been utilizing its commercial fleet to improve its SkyCargo operations; which at the moment is mainly transporting food and medical supplies. Etihad has also followed suit, by deploying its 787 passenger aircraft on the cargo network.
Obstacles to Rescue Efforts:
One major concern for many citizens trapped in foreign countries is the high ticket fares for rescue flights. Passengers have expressed utter dismay at these airlines for issuing expensive tickets during this crisis. Air Canada and LATAM airlines have received strong criticism from customers because of this.
Though governments are making repatriation efforts, the rescue operation is anything but trivial. Incoming passengers bring with them an added threat of being infected. Moreover, the safety of the flight crew is also of utmost importance. So, unless governments can enact a framework where incoming passengers are thoroughly screened and tested for the virus, further spread may become imminent.