On December 1, Arshad Khan, 31, reached the Mumbai airport well in time to board a plane for Delhi only to be told that his flight had been delayed due to bad weather.
After a long wait at the Mumbai airport, he boarded the flight and reached Delhi almost three hours after scheduled time as his aircraft hovered above Delhi for a long time before landing.
The same day, there were a thousand others whose flights were delayed and many had to land at a nearby airport as visibility was bad in Delhi. Dense fog had engulfed Delhi from November 30 and for four days, operations were affected badly.
But report submitted to aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) by the airport operator tells a different tale. The report says that 811 flights were affected because the airlines were not prepared and 97 were affected because of the weather at Delhi airport during the first three days of dense fog.
“Airlines have been asked to strictly adhere to rules while flying to or from Delhi under low visibility conditions. Instances have come to our notice where flights had to be diverted as either the crew wasn’t CAT III qualified or airlines were found using non-CAT III compliant planes for flights to Delhi,” said a DGCA official.
The diversions, the official said, had taken place despite the visibility at runways not falling below 125 metres. Airlines have been asked to deploy only CAT III compliant aircraft during fog period along with CAT III qualified crew. Non-CAT III compliant aircrafts will have to be rescheduled between 10am and 8pm.
The DGCA had pulled up airlines last week for not following guidelines.
But airlines continue to claim that they have sufficient trained crew. “A large part of our cockpit crew is CATIIIB trained. Only CATIIIB trained planes and planes, which are CATIII compliant, are being deployed on fog-hit routes,” said a senior SpiceJet official.
Pilots, who are CAT III qualified, are of the view that better forecast can help in deploying trained pilots when the weather is bad.
“If everything is according to forecast, airlines will deploy trained pilots. Most of the problem happens in the first day of fog as it comes suddenly. Most of the pilots are trained but they have to wait for the approval from DGCA, which takes a lot of time. Most of the delays are linked to weather and its prediction. Most of the time it is the intensity of fog, which affect operation as ground handling staff can’t operate in low visibility. Airlines cant’ be blamed for everything,” said Shakti Lumba, former chief of operations of Indigo.
While many passengers were stranded, the fog report revealed that major reasons for delay\diversion\cancellation were crew shortage, non-CAT compliance and technical issues with the aircraft.
“Three runways at the IGI airport; 28, 29 and 11 are certified for CAT III B operations, which would allow landing of the compliant aircraft with visibility as low as 50 metres, Aircraft can take off with visibility of 125 metre. Most of the times, airlines or pilots were not equipped to operate in CAT III conditions,” said an airport official.