Devbrat Patnaik

Bhubaneswar: After the Centre gradually eased air travel restrictions imposed since March 24 to contain the spread of COVID-19, national carrier Air India and its subsidiary Air India Express embarked on repatriating stranded people under India's 'Vande Bharat' evacuation mission.

That which hadn't been possible till now is finally going to happen in the times of COVID-19, as for the first time, a direct flight from Dubai will land at the Biju Patnaik International Airport in Bhubaneswar. This is being done as part of the process to repatriate hundreds of Odias back to where they belong, thanks to the initiation of UAE expatriates.

The AI flight 1996 will depart from Dubai this Thursday (May 14) at around 3 PM and is scheduled to arrive at the Bhubaneswar Airport the same day at 9.15 PM.

Appreciating the endeavour of Consulate General of India in Dubai, Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and the Ministry of External Affairs in making this happen, the Odisha Samaj UAE tweeted, "Elated and ecstatic to announce that a special 179 seater Air India Flight with Odia expats is confirmed to depart from Dubai for Bhubaneswar on May 14."

According to sources, around 2500 Odias in Dubai have registered to return to Odisha. With regard to a possible inconvenience, the Odisha Samaj UAE said, "We are anticipating cooperation from every fellow Odia brother and sister stranded in UAE. We care for you and stand in solidarity with all of you. We are doing our best to accommodate maximum distressed people in the first plane scheduled to fly on May 14. For now, only 179 can fly. The final decision on the evacuee list is in the hands of Indian Consulate."

It is pertinent to mention that last month the Odisha Samaj UAE had requested Consul General of India in Dubai, UAE for a special flight each from Dubai and Abu Dhabi to Bhubaneswar for repatriation of stranded Odias.

As per the Ministry of Civil Aviation, as many as 6037 Indians have been flown back to India in 31 inbound flights operated by Air India & Air India Express under Vande Bharat Mission in 5 days beginning from May 7, 2020. The mission is touted as the world's largest evacuation operation undertaken since Independence.