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AI evacuation flights costing Rs 7-8 lakh per hour

As Air India ferries hundreds of Indians stranded in Ukraine, the cost of operating a two-way evacuation flight will be more than Rs 1.10 crore and the amount will go up depending on the duration of the flights.

The airline is operating the services with wide-body Boeing 787 plane, better known as Dreamliner, from neighbouring countries of conflict-ridden Ukraine, including Romania and Hungary.

It has already brought back hundreds of Indians. The flights have been chartered by the Indian government.

An airline source told PTI that the cost of operating a chartered flight with the Dreamliner is around Rs 7 to 8 lakh per hour and the total amount will depend “on where we are going and how far we are going”.

The total cost will include expenses related to crew, fuel, navigation, landing and parking charges.

Also, considering that these flights are for relatively long duration, there will be two sets of crew onboard. The crew that operates the first leg of the flight will take rest in the return leg and will be replaced by another set of crew, the source said on condition of anonymity.

Currently, Air India is operating flights to Bucharest (Romania) and Budapest (Hungary) and both are offline stations for the airline, which means it does not have scheduled services to these places.

According to flight tracking website FlightAware, the flight from Bucharest to Mumbai that landed on Saturday night was for a duration of nearly six hours.

The flight from Budapest to Delhi was for about six hours and another flight from Delhi to Bucharest took over seven hours. An Air India flight from Bucharest to Delhi took over 5 hours.

As the cost will be between Rs 7 to 8 lakh per hour, the total cost for a round trip will be more than Rs 1.10 crore. The figure is calculated under the assumption that overall duration of the to and fro flight is around 14 hours. The expenses will shoot up in case the duration is longer.

The government is not charging people for the evacuation flights. Some state governments have also announced that they will bear the expenses of people from their respective states who are returning from Ukraine.

The Dreamliner has more than 250 seats.

According to pilots who fly Dreamliners, the aircraft on an average consumes 5 tonnes of fuel per hour.

The source said that once the operations are complete, the exact cost will be worked out and then the airline will send the bill to the government for reimbursement.

Air India did not offer comments on queries about the cost involved in operating the evacuation flights.

According to the source, the overall cost will be comparatively lower if the chartered flight is operated to a scheduled destination as already factors like getting fuel would have been taken care of.

In evacuation operations, the airline operates a ferry flight from India to the destination concerned. Generally, a ferry flight refers to service wherein the plane does not have people onboard except the crew members.

Till now, a few Air India flights have returned with Indians, who were stranded in Ukraine, from Bucharest and Budapest. Indians crossed the Ukranian borders with Romania and Hungary, respectively, before they were flown out from these destinations.

On February 24, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said that around 16,000 Indians, mainly students, were stranded in Ukraine, which is now engaged in an intense battle with Russia. Since then, over 900 Indians have returned and there would be now around 15,000 Indians in Ukraine and its border areas.

Ukranian airspace is closed for civilian flights since February 24 amid the Russian offensive.

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