SpiceJet drawing up schedule to vaccinate staff against coronavirus soon

SpiceJet has participated actively to ensure uninterrupted supply of Covid-19 vaccines and aid and also helped in repatriating stranded people

SpiceJet drawing up schedule to vaccinate staff against coronavirus soon
A SpiceJet Boeing 737-800. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Paul Nelhams

India's second-largest airline SpiceJet would be vaccinating its staff soon and a schedule is being prepared. This comes after all the other major airlines in India announced plans to inoculate their employees to recognise the threat faced by them as frontline workers as the Covid storm rages on. 

"We plan to (vaccinate the employees). A schedule is being drawn up," a SpiceJet spokesperson told Plane Vanilla. "We will be issuing a release on this soon," he added. 

Among SpiceJet's peers, national carrier Air India announced plans to inoculate all its employees by May-end after its pilots had threatened to stop flying.

The largest Indian airline IndiGo said that it had already started vaccination at 39 stations, Business Standard reported. IndiGo looks to vaccinate all its 23,000 or so employees and aims to become India's fully-vaccinated airline, a simpleflying.com report added.

GoAir aims to vaccinate most of its employees by May-end and AirAsia India has undertaken vaccination drives in Delhi, Gurugram and Bengaluru.

Vistara said that it is getting into agreements with government agencies and its frontline staff are getting vaccinated progressively.   

On May 6, the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) issued guidelines for the vaccination of all stakeholders, while suggesting that priority be given to Air Traffic Control Officers (ATCOs), pilots and cabin crew of airlines and mission-critical and passenger-facing staff. The government called upon all players in the civil aviation sector to cover their personnel under the ongoing Covid vaccination programme.  

"To facilitate expeditious vaccination for the personnel involved in aviation or related services (including contractual, casual, etc) a dedicated vaccination facility to be established by the airport operators in their respective airports," MoCA said in an office memorandum. 

Also read -- Operation Covid vaccine: SpiceJet carries corona-killer to Delhi, mega inoculation drive kicks off

The MoCA guidelines added that the airport operators should immediately get in touch with state governments and private hospitals, who are willing to set up vaccination centres at the airports so that there can be a regular vaccination schedule. The airport operators have been advised to establish vaccination counters and segregated waiting areas. 

The MoCA leaves it to the airport operator to decide the cost of the vaccination dose after talks with the service providers. All aviation stakeholders should be able to avail these facilities at the same cost, the ministry said. "All agencies working in the airport ecosystem need to sponsor their personnel to avail the facilities as operators/service providers would not be dealing with individual cases," it added. 

The guidelines further stated that while the focus could be on bigger airports tying up with private service providers, small airports may contact the district/local administration for the vaccination programme. These airports, however, may also tie up with private service providers. The organisations that have already made arrangements with government/private service providers for vaccinating their employees may continue with those arrangements.        

According to the MoCA, the Covid vaccination can be extended to the family members of the aviation staff in subsequent phases. 

A SpiceJet plane on January 12 carried the first batch of India's Covid-19 vaccines to Delhi. Image courtesy: DIAL

These MoCA guidelines were a result of the government's acknowledgement that "during the surge of Covid-19, the aviation community has risen to the occasion to provide unhindered services for the movement of people in need and the essential cargo (critical medical cargo like vaccines, medicines, oxygen concentrators, etc)." In this regard, the civil aviation secretary had written to the state governments on April 27 to consider personnel involved in aviation and related services for vaccination on priority. With the states taking time to react, the airlines had started to formulate plans themselves and contact hospitals for inoculating their staff against the coronavirus.     

Also read: India's aviation staff seek Covid vaccination on priority; will govt be kinder now?

Vaccination on priority has been a strident demand of the aviation sector. India started its vaccination drive in mid-January this year, with emphasis on healthcare workers. The MoCA had requested the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) to consider the frontline workers in aviation for Covid-19 vaccination on a priority basis after healthcare workers are given the jabs. Several aviation employees have been infected by the coronavirus and some have even died in their efforts to keep the world moving and help in the fight against the coronavirus ensuring the regular flow of Covid aid and other essential supplies. 

SpiceJet has performed a stellar role in India's 'Operation Covid Vaccine', carrying the first lot of the Covishield vaccines to Delhi from their manufacturing base in Pune on January 12 that kickstarted India's mammoth Covid vaccination mission. The airline's cargo arm SpiceXpress continues to undertake several initiatives to ensure Covid vaccine delivery and has also been carrying in oxygen concentrators to combat the alarming oxygen shortage that had multiplied India's problems manifold amid a devastating Covid surge. 

SpiceJet has also been offering Covid-19 tests to its passengers at only Rs 299, which is about one-third of the current market rate, The Times of India reported. SpiceJet passengers can use their PNRs once to avail the special discounted price either before travel or up to 30 days after travel.

SpiceJet's healthcare arm SpiceHealth had also set up mobile testing centres for the general public in Mumbai and Delhi for a cost of just Rs 499, with the option of sample collection from the comfort of home. SpiceHealth's mobile laboratories have been accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

This has been widely regarded as a smart business move by the company to earn money while rendering an essential service. It also highlighted an effort by the airline to boost demand that had been dented owing to the Covid scare and myriad travel restrictions.

A SpiceXpress aircraft airlifts 600 oxygen concentrators from Miami, USA to Delhi. Image courtesy: Twitter/@AjaySingh_SG

SpiceJet had also provided strong support to India's Lifeline Udan mission launched after the nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 25 last year. This mission aimed to ensure an uninterrupted supply of medical and other essential items to the country's remotest corners and beyond so that the lockdown measures, including travel bans, didn't cause panic among the public. 

The airline has also made itself available to support India's mega Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) to primarily repatriate Indians stranded abroad in the face of the pandemic-induced travel bans, lockdowns and vanishing livelihoods.

However, participating in all these missions and initiatives has heavily exposed the aviation staff to Covid-19 infection. One may recollect that the fear regarding the breath analyser test, which is used to identify drunken airline crew members, had gained ground after a SpiceJet pilot tested positive for the coronavirus on March 28 last year. As a result of the high virus exposure, the aviation crew and their family members also run the risk of getting infected. 

India opened up the vaccination programme for the common public on March 1, with a focus on senior citizens and those above 45 years with comorbidities. The 18-44 years age group was made eligible for the Covid jabs from May 1. 

India reported a whopping 4,01,078 new Covid-19 cases, including 4,187 deaths, in the past 24 hours on May 8. The total active cases reached 37,23,446. More than 16.73 crore vaccine doses have been administered as on May 8 and more than 14.8 lakh people in the 18-44 years age group have received the vaccine in the third phase.

SpiceJet has been facing human-resource-related trouble of late, with discontent brewing among the employees over pay cuts, deferment of salary and planned layoffs.

(Cover image courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Paul Nelhams)