COVID-19 scare: Activists slam arrival of cargo flight from China

Updated: Mar 23, 2020, 07:23 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

NGO raises concern with DGCA about flights coming from COVID-19-hit nations; MIAL says no restriction on cargo flights

The China Airlines cargo flight at the Cargo section of the CSIA
The China Airlines cargo flight at the Cargo section of the CSIA

Less than 24 hours before the suspension of international flights from Sunday midnight to March 31, a Chinese cargo aircraft landed early on Sunday and caused concern for loaders at the cargo section of the Mumbai international airport early on Sunday morning.

In the past few days, the impact of COVID-19 has brought down not only the number of international flights but also of domestic flights, making it difficult for airlines to reschedule or cancel flights on certain sectors, a ground staff deployed at the domestic airport said.

Mumbai-based NGO, the Watchdog Foundation, raised its concerns to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

Advocate Godfrey Pimenta, founder of the Watchdog Foundation, told mid-day, "We were informed by the loaders at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport's Cargo section about the arrival of a China Airlines Cargo flight CI 5689, that landed early in the morning on Sunday. We are apprehensive as the flight must have originated in China. It could have had a halt in France and finally landed in Mumbai."

"Unless the cargo compromised essential medicines or medical equipment, how on earth was the plane allowed to land in Mumbai? It is also learnt that due to the non-waiver of demurrage charges by the Mumbai International Airport Pvt. Ltd. (MIAL), the importers are allegedly forcing Customs to clear cargo. Otherwise, they will have to pay the heavy demurrage charges," claimed Pimenta. "It is unfortunate that despite the prevailing pandemic, the health of many reluctant cargo clearing agents and their employees is at risk. This is despite the DGCA issuing an attached travel advisory for flights to and from China," said Pimenta.

Pimenta has also written to the Mumbai police, apprising them of the situation and said that he is waiting for a response from the police and DGCA.

While there is a no-flight period at the airport, the CISF continues to man it. A CISF official said that the arrival of the flight in the Cargo section is not under their purview.

MIAL speaks
An MIAL official rubbished the claims made by Watchdog Foundation, stating, "The Airport Cargo services come under the ambit of the Essential Services Act and Mumbai being a pharma products hub, their is no restriction on any international cargo flights coming from any COVID-19-affected countries. We are here to abide by the civil aviation ministry and government of India's directives, which have not put any restriction on cargo flights coming to Mumbai or India. And as per the government notification, while Cargo services will continue, it will be the international flights that won't operate till March 31."

With regards to Pimenta's claims on the demurrage charges, the official refuted them, saying that it is the government that decides on such charges and MIAL is only a service provider. It has no role in deciding the demurrage charges, the official said.

Mumbai airport, on an average, services to around 980 scheduled flights per day, which include 200 to 250 international flights.

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