India has a long history of bringing its people from abroad safely home in case an emergency occurs. At present, even amid the Russia-Ukraine War crisis, Air India flights are working to bring stranded Indians to Ukraine under India’s flagship Operation Ganga initiative. India started the evacuation of its stranded civilians on 26 February amid a Russian military attack in Ukraine.
The first evacuation flight, AI1944 brought back 219 people from Bucharest to Mumbai, while the second evacuation flight AI1942, with 250 Indian nationals, departed from Bucharest and landed at Delhi airport at 2.45 pm on Sunday. In the same sequence, Air India’s third evacuation flight, AI1940, departed from Budapest with 240 Indian nationals and reached Delhi at around 9:20 am on Sunday.
It is worth noting that this is not the first time that Air India has had to land in the rescue operation. In the past, in many difficult situations, Air India has done the work of bringing Indians back to their homeland safely from abroad. Today we are going to mention here some such big occasions when Air India planes emerged as troubleshooters for Indians.
1. Vande Bharat Mission 2020 in Corona Crisis
In the year 2020, when countries around the world were closing their borders and airlines had also stopped operating. At that time Air India had proved its worth by evacuating thousands of Indians trapped in China, Iran, Italy. In January 2020, a 423-seat Boeing 747 brought back Indians from Wuhan in China at a time when the city saw the peak of the coronavirus pandemic. There were 5 doctors and 1 paramedic on board the flight. There was no interaction between the passengers and the cabin crew to reduce the risk of infection. Even food was kept on the seats.
2. Kuwait Airlift 1990: When Saddam Hussein Attacked
Saddam Hussein’s army entered Kuwait, more than 1 lakh Indians living and working in the country were trapped, there was no way out. The Ministry of External Affairs appointed several military aircraft to bring back its citizens. But getting clearance to fly military jets overseas required airspace clearance.
As the situation worsened further, fearing a major war, the government turned to Air India. In 59 days, Air India operated 488 flights, bringing back only 112,000 Indians to Mumbai, making it the largest civilian airlift evacuation ever.
3. Lebanon 2006: When Lebanon and Syria were faced to face
When tensions were going on between neighboring Lebanon and Israel. At that time, the Indian Navy, in collaboration with Air India, carried out an operation to evacuate Indian, Sri Lankan, and Nepalese citizens as well as Lebanese citizens from the conflict zone. At that time the name of this mission was named Operation Sukoon. This operation is one of the biggest evacuations conducted by the Indian Navy. A total of 2,280 people, including 1,764 Indians, 112 Sri Lankans, 64 Nepalese, and 7 Lebanese nationals were evacuated after the conflict.
4. Operation Rahat 2015: When Yemen and Saudi Arabia collided
In April 2015, Saudi Arabia-led coalition Houthi rebels launched an air raid on the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. Then the Indian Army, along with Air India, evacuated 4,640 Indians and 960 civilians from 41 other countries including the US, UK, France, Egypt, Sweden, and Thailand. This exercise was called Operation Rahat. At that time Yemeni airspace was a no-fly zone.
So Indian warships had to take people to nearby Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, from where they went home. Indian Air Force’s Globemaster aircraft took off from Djibouti for Mumbai and Kochi. Air India finally got special permission to fly into Sana’a on 3 April and made three trips to bring a total of 574 Indians back to their country safely.
5. Operation Safe Homecoming 2011: The Time of the Libyan Civil War
It was an operation launched by the Government of India on 26 February 2011 to evacuate its citizens fleeing the Libyan Civil War. The Air-Sea operation was conducted by the Indian Navy and Air India. 18 thousand Indian citizens working in Libya were trapped due to the unrest. After evacuating over 15,000 Indian nationals, the operation ended on 11 March.