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Landing trouble

The next time your flight is delayed because of fog while the Rs 1,000 crore new runway at the Delhi Airport lies idle, blame your airline.

delhi Updated: Jan 06, 2009 23:54 IST
Sidhartha Roy

The next time your flight is delayed because of fog while the Rs 1,000 crore new runway at the Delhi Airport lies idle, blame your airline.

This winter was expected to be different at the airport. With two runways equipped with the CAT III-B instrument landing system, which helps aircraft to land in visibility as low as 50 metres, flight delays were promised to be a thing of past.

The reality is flight delays remain, so does air traffic congestion. Though the new runway has witnessed its share of glitches since fog descended on December 10, the real reason why it remains under-utilised is different.

Dense fog descended on Monday at 10.09 p.m. and low visibility procedures were implemented. They remained in place till 11.30 a.m. on Tuesday. Details of flight movements during this more than 13-hour period available with HT clearly show, as visibility dipped, so did the number flight movements.

This, when all airlines except SpiceJet and JetLite claim they have sufficient compliant aircraft and trained pilots to operate in such conditions.

While 31 domestic flights landed on Monday night, when visibility was between 600-850 metres, the number went to single digits after that as visibility dipped to 75 metres in CAT III-A conditions.

Domestic departures start from 5.30 a.m. The peak period is between 6.30 a.m. and 9.30 a.m., when 20 departures take place per hour. The average number of take-offs in this period on Tuesday was 8.

The peak hour for arrivals is between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. when about 20 flights land at the airport per hour. The average number of landings on Tuesday during this period, when visibility was between 125-200 metres, was only 5.

IGIA is busiest between 7.30 a.m. and 10 a.m., when it handles 40 flights movements per hour. However, the airport witnessed a total of 40 flight movements between 7 and 10 a.m. on Tuesday, when CAT III-A conditions were prevailing.

"Ideally, the airport can easily handle up to 40 flight movements per hour with two runways even when visibility is below 200 metres. But very few pilots are willing to operate in such condition," said an airport official. "We end up handling only about 15 flights per hour that can be operated from just one runway. That is why the new runway, which witnesses much less visibility compared to the main one, is not used at all," he said.