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Even forecast was not enough help at airport

It was a fog that took everybody by surprise — airlines, airport operators and the meteorological department. HT reports.

delhi Updated: Dec 26, 2010 23:55 IST

It was a fog that took everybody by surprise — airlines, airport operators and the meteorological department.

The dense fog that enveloped Indira Gandhi International Airport on Saturday evening, cleared only by next day afternoon. Its effect on flight operations was massive with at least 250 flights delayed, cancelled, rescheduled or diverted.

The unprecedented number of flights diverted in a single spell of fog — 42 — shows the stakeholders’ lack of preparedness. So many flights in one day have not been diverted from Delhi airport in the last five years. In the normal course, aircraft taking off for Delhi are asked to wait when visibility at IGI airport is expected to dip.

“We knew that fog is expected at the airport during this time but the sheer amount of time for which visibility went down to zero is unusual,” said a senior official of a full-cost carrier, who did not wish to be named. “Despite having compliant aircraft and pilots trained to fly in very low visibility, we couldn’t operate because the visibility was just too low.”

He also said that due to lack of advance information, many flights to Delhi took off from other airports only to be told to divert to Jaipur, Lucknow or Ahmedabad instead.

Director-in-charge of the IGIA Met unit, RK Jenamani, however, said updated information is provided to pilots but many still depart for Delhi. "We have the latest and best equipment for fog forecast. If airlines use it properly, the number of diversions will be brought down significantly.

To its credit, the Met department had predicted on December 16 that this Christmas would be foggy and two to three days of dense fog is expected before December 28. Jenamani, however, admitted that the sheer density of fog on Saturday and Sunday was “unexpected”.

“The visibility remained 150m from late night on Saturday to Sunday afternoon,” he said. “The visibility was low at both the main and new

runways, which is unprecedented. Usually, visibility at runway 28 is better and fog remains for shorter period there when compared to the new runway 29, which faces the worst fog due to presence of huge empty space around it.”

Low visibility procedures had to be implemented at the airport from 7.40pm on Saturday after visibility started dipping. The fog lifted only by 1.08pm on Sunday. During this period, 326 flights operated using Instrument Landing System.