Long diversions, fewer seats and expensive tickets are what travellers flying to Delhi could be headed for with fog season just weeks away and advanced landing systems not installed at the ‘nearby’ airports of Jaipur, Amritsar and Lucknow. Passengers coming into the Capital may now have to be diverted to faraway Nagpur or Ahmedabad with Jaipur, Amritsar and Lucknow airports—where capital-bound aircraft are usually diverted to during heavy fog—missing two deadlines to be ready for extreme low-visibility conditions, sources said. The airports were to be CAT IIIB-ready by October 30.
CAT IIIB level of instrument landing system (ILS) enables aircraft to land when the visibility is down to just 50 metres. The city’s Indira Gandhi International Airport has CAT IIIB equipment but flights are diverted to a nearby airport if visibility drops further, which it often does on bad days.
“To fly to an alternate airport that is far off, say Nagpur or Ahmedabad, airlines will have to carry full fuel which would result in a payload penalty i.e. carrying lesser passengers,” said one airline official. Reduced passenger capacity could push ticket prices up in a worst-case scenario, sources said.
Severe fog is not the only worry. Several pilots Hindustan Times spoke to said the existing CAT I or II ILS system at the nearby airports isn’t working either as equipment upgradation was in progress at all three airports.
“Time is running out. New alternate airports will have to be notified if work at these airports is not completed in time,” a ministry official said.
As thick fog envelops the city every winter, flight operations are hit by delays, diversions and even cancellations in extreme conditions. Last year, the aviation ministry had directed the Airports Authority of India to upgrade the nearby airports, which typically have better visibility than Delhi, to CAT IIIB as it was found that operations at these facilities, too, had been hit due to severe fog.
Jaipur, Amritsar and Lucknow had to be upgraded to CAT IIIB. They have already missed two deadlines -- October 30 and November 10.
“Two deadlines have already passed by but none of these airports are CAT IIIB compliant yet. It is only a matter of time when diversions due to fog begin,” said a director general of civil aviation official. The regulator has called a meeting of all stakeholders on Tuesday to assess fog operations.
It was yet another example of poor planning and execution, a senior official of a budget carrier said on condition of anonymity.
Lucknow and Amritsar airport directors told HT that CAT IIIB work was on but ILS, which allows planes to land in low visibility conditions, was working. Their Jaipur counterpart said the CAT IIIB installation was ready but a number of clearances were still to come.