The worst fog conditions since 2003 have also brought back interminable flight delays, cancellations and air traffic congestion at Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA).
Ironically, while the aircraft were burning fuel, awaiting their turn to land on Friday night, the new Rs 1000 crore runway was empty and shut for operations.
With the enforcement of low visibility procedures (LVP) at the airport at 10.30 pm, the entire load of flight operations was shifted to the main runway 28, resulting in severe air traffic congestion.
It was only when the visibility improved at 9.23 am on Saturday that the new runway 29 was made available to flights and the air traffic congestion eased.
It was last year that the airport officials had proudly announced that the opening of the new runway would put an end to flight disruptions. However, the new runway has either been highly under-utilised or remained completely shut whenever fog has descended upon the airport since December.
With more than 200 flights disrupted every time the fog engulfed the airport, there is little respite for air passengers.
According to a senior Airport Authority of India (AAI) official, who did not wish to be named, it is the pilot’s prerogative to decide which runway he wants to land his aircraft on. During the dense fog conditions, the official said, pilots preferred using runway 28, as they were more comfortable on it.
“Proper utilsastion of the runway depends on the airlines and not on the air traffic control. Pilots trained in CAT IIIB prefer hovering around the airport to using runway 29 even when the runway visibility range (RVR) is 200 metres. The air traffic control officials have no choice but to give runway 28 to the aircraft,” the AAI official said.
Airlines beg to differ
The airlines, however, claim the air traffic control allots a runway to the pilot. The ATC, alleged airline officials, itself prefers runway 28 to runway 29, where the fog remains thicker.
“We have CAT IIIB compliant aircraft and pilots. We will be happy and willing to use runway 29. (But) our experience has been that whenever CAT IIIB is enforced on runway 28, the visibility at runway 29 is below the minimum level,” Kingfisher spokesperson Prakash Mirpuri said.
“Also, after hovering around the airport, domestic aircraft take at least 45 minutes to reach the terminal from runway 29 during fog. From the passengers’ point of view, the flight delay thus goes up to at least one-and-a-half hours while it takes just five minutes to reach the terminal from runway 28,” the official added.