Air India pilots have urged the Centre to provide them better medical care when they go abroad to evacuate stranded Indians amid the Covid-19 pandemic, NDTV reported on Monday. Pilots and crew got substandard protective gear during the rescue flights, they told Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri in a letter.

“Our pilots and cabin crew are being provided substandard, ill-fitting and flimsy personal protective equipment that tear/disintegrate easily on rescue flights,” the Air India staff said in their letter, according to NDTV. “Sanitisers are not provided in sufficient quantities and disinfection processes are short of industry best practices.”

The coronavirus infection has now spread across the world, with nearly 7.4 lakh patients worldwide and 1,071 in India. As affected countries blocked incoming and outgoing air traffic to control its spread, Air India has undertaken rescue missions to bring stranded Indians back home from China and Italy in the last few weeks.

The staff said in their letter that “every resource” of the Air India medical services, such as doctors and ambulances, should be made available 24x7 to support the flying crew and their families. Such resources may be needed for consultations, coordination with state health departments, testing for Covid-19 and its treatment if any crew member were to get affected, the letter said.

“This is the minimum level of support expected from an organisation that sends its employees to a biohazard frontline,” the staff said.

The letter complained that there was no additional insurance policy for pilots or cabin crew to cover any Covid-19 related risks. “Our flying-related allowances, comprising 70% of our total emoluments, remain unpaid since January 2020,” the staff added.

“To add insult to injury, we have also recently been informed by our management of a substantial pay cut, while in the midst of the above mentioned COVID rescue operations,” they further said.

State-run Air India is under huge debts, and the government has sought bids for its sale.

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