It’s the same story every winter. As dense fog envelopes Delhi airports, hundreds of flights get delayed, diverted or cancelled. But the biggest harassment that passengers face is being confined inside an aircraft for hours endlessly, waiting to fly.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) dutifully warns airlines before each winter not to make passengers sit inside the aircraft during fog.
Why is it then that the airlines prefer to flout guidelines?
Here’s why. When visibility improves, the air traffic control (ATC) only allows those flights to take off that are absolutely ready to do so.
This means that to fly as soon as the weather improves, all passengers must be on board, the baggage loaded and the doors of the aircraft, shut.
Instead of allowing passengers to wait in the comfort of the terminal and make them board the aircraft only when visibility improves, airlines prefer to get the flights to depart the moment pilots are able to fly.
During fog, the ATC sequences the aircraft and gives clearance for take-off based on the start-up request to avoid congestion. “Every airline wants to depart first and that is why they sent start-up requests,” said a senior airport official, who did not wish to be identified.
“Also, by completing the boarding, airlines can claim that the flight was on time as technically the boarding time is considered when it comes to on-time performance. Airlines have to book slots for take-off and even in zero visibility they put the aircraft in queue so they will be the first to take off as soon as visibility improves,” he said.
“If you follow the weather trend at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, the visibility tends to improve or deteriorate within seconds. We want to be ready for take-off in case visibility improves and so we put our plane in sequence,” said a Kingfisher official, who didn’t wish to be named.
According to senior DGCA officials, budget carriers are even bigger culprits. “Budget carriers try to maintain a very short turnaround time (the time taken between the arrival of a flight and its next departure) and save every second that they can,” a senior DGCA official said.
“The least they can do is provide food and water to stranded passengers, but we have received complaints that they are violating this guideline too,” he said.