Chandigarh airport, considered a gateway to Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, grounds to a halt for several days every year thanks to dense fog. But it is looking at better days at last with the CAT-III Instrument Landing System (ILS) being installed.
ILS is a crucial device that helps in the safe landing of an aircraft during foggy conditions and low visibility.
"Airports Authority of India's (AAI) technical team from New Delhi is here and calibration of ILS is going on. This device would be commissioned in a week's time," airport director H S Toor told IANS.
"The ILS device is from Thales company and it has been imported from Italy at a cost of around Rs 1 crore," he said.
A CAT-I ILS device installed earlier has been lying defunct for the last year and a half at Chandigarh airport. As a result, things were difficult for pilots during overcast conditions, leading to frequent flight cancellations.
Over a dozen flights arrive and depart from this airport daily and all the major airlines like Air India, Jet Airways, Kingfisher, Go Air and MDLR operate from here.
Every day, two Indian Air Force (IAF) planes fly to Leh town and Thoise military airfield in Ladakh from Chandigarh airport.
"During the last one year, we have suffered losses worth several lakhs of rupees. There are instances when our flights either have to remain in the sky, wait for the weather to clear, or go to Delhi or Amritsar airport. It was really difficult to work without ILS," a senior official of Jet Airways told IANS on condition of anonymity.
This year Chandigarh airport remained shut for six days, Jan 5-10, owing to poor visibility. Last year too, rough weather forced the airport to be shut for at least 20 days in January.
Being primarily a military airfield, all air traffic control facilities, including navigational and landing aids and other safety measures, are the responsibility of the IAF.
Work for the setting up of the new advanced ILS was started in November last year and it was completed Dec 29. It will start functioning in the next one week - albeit through the old CAT-I infrastructure.
According to officials, IAF has provided the space whereas the machinery has been procured and installed by AAI.
Although the CAT-III device has been installed, it will still work on the infrastructure of CAT-I, which is lower in precision and quality.
"The new device is of CAT-III but for the next few months, it would work on the lines of CAT-I. That is because we have the infrastructure of CAT-I device and it would take at least eight months' time to upgrade it for CAT-III," Air Commodore Rajeev Sachdeva, the air officer commanding (AOC) 12 Wing, told IANS.
In normal conditions a plane can land safely if the visibility is up to 2,800-3,000 metres. ILS can help if visibility is reduced to 1,200-1,400 metres.
Talking about the cancellation of flights, Toor said: "We cannot put the entire blame on the non-availability of the ILS device. ILS is useful only when there is a visibility of up to 1,200 metres. We cannot win against the weather and everyone has to understand this."
Chandigarh generally sees visibility dropping to around 1,500 metres during foggy days.
Construction work is also on to convert the airport into an international one. It was earlier supposed to be completed in October 2009, but airport officials changed the deadline to June 2010.
This would be the region's second international airport after the one in Punjab's Amritsar city.
A joint venture was signed between the AAI and the governments of Punjab and Haryana for the execution of this multi-million rupee project.