Chennai: Cruising at 35,000feet on a Boeing 737 loaded with essential supplies and medical equipment, captain Arun Prakash often misses the chatter in the radio, for the sky is near-empty with all passenger flights in the country grounded as part of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Though qualified to fly passenger flights and freighter planes, Arun had never flown cargo until now. The captain now takes off on a flight with supplies strapped to its empty seats at least four times a week.
The city-based pilot was among the first to volunteer when SpiceJet sought pilots to fly essential cargo across the country. While the shutdown grounded most pilots, Arun Prakash’s passion for flying did not let him sit idle.
“I have operated 15 flights over 10 days during the shutdown. I find it thrilling to think of my effort as an opportunity to help the country in its fight to contain the virus. That keeps me going,” he says, adding that it is rare for pilots to sit at home for such a long time so it’s nice to fly.
“In a day’s flying, I cover three airports. Some days I may not be able to return to Chennai, where I live. As not many freighters are being operated, so I may not find a freighter to fly back home. I end up spending the night in some hotel, away from family,” says Arun. The experience of flying a plane is a joy during shutdown, he adds.
Since only flights that ferry cargo and supplies are being operated by all airlines, there are hardly five to ten aircraft in the country’s airspace at a time, against the thousands that used to crowd the skies in the pre-shutdown days.
“There are no delays, no air congestion over airports, no need to wait for landing. But I miss my colleagues on air. I feel gloomy when I walk into an empty airport and I miss the frequent inflight announcements I used to make for passengers,” he said. He used to make announcements in Tamil too. “Passengers used to like it.”
He doesn’t dwell on it much, as he knows that every flight of his is crucial for people struggling in these tough times.
26/04/20 V Ayaappan/Times of India