With the winter fog getting denser everyday, passengers at Delhi airport need to be prepared for more nerve wracking moments as only three private airlines, besides the national carrier are capable of flying in dense fog, according to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
"Apart from the national carrier, only Kingfisher, IndiGo and Go Air pilots are trained with CAT-III, an instrument that helps in operating flights in dense fog," said Kanu Gohain, chief of the DGCA, on Monday.
"Air India, Indian Airlines, Kingfisher, IndiGo and Go Air have the respective number of pilots - 192, 265, 43, 16 and 13 - who can operate at Delhi airport during peak fog time," Gohain told reporters at the launch of the Dec 10-15 Aviation Safety Week here.
CAT-III is a system that allows compatible aircraft and trained pilots to land even when runway visibility range (RVR) is up to 50 metres. Flight movement at Delhi airport is completely aborted when RVR falls below 50 metres.
Jet, JetLite and Spice Jet pilots are only trained with CAT II procedures, which are applied when RVR falls to 1,500 m, the top DGCA official said.
Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said passengers these days were aware of which airlines are CAT-III compliant and have a range of "choices".
"People these days are aware which airlines pilots are compliant of CAT-III. We have provided them a range of options. It is their choice on which airline to fly," Patel said at the event.
Asked about the regular flight delays and subsequent chaos at Delhi airport, Patel said: "There are many consumer forums and people can complain of this."
Patel also lambasted the media for "only targeting" the national carriers for flight delays and giving passengers a tough time.
Gohain said that the DGCA was "planning to disallow slogs (flying hours) given to private airlines if they cancel any of their flights this winter due to any reason". "The airlines have been asked to roster their CAT-III pilots to Delhi airport," he said.
The meteorological department has forecast severe fog in the capital that would affect flight movements at Delhi airport between December 15 and the end of January. Around 650 flights operate from Delhi airport daily.
"Comparing the statistics of the past 10 years, we predict that visibility will fall to less than 200 metres for at least 150 hours during the dense fog period of Dec 15 to January-end. At that time, only CAT-III compliant aircraft would be able to operate," RK Jenamani, director of the met office at the Indira Gandhi International Airport here, said.
Last winter, foggy conditions led to complete chaos at the domestic airport for several days and airport authorities were unable to handle the mass of frustrated passengers crowding terminals as flight after flight was cancelled or delayed.
An airport official said: "Private airlines are not training their pilots under the CAT-III programme as it is very costly and its dynamics change with advancement in technology. Airlines only prefer to reschedule flights instead of spending money on pilot training."
Aviation officials estimate that the domestic airlines industry loses around Rs 40 million a day due to flight delays and diversions. A single flight diverted costs an airline close to Rs 450,000.
The losses due to delays and diversions this year have been mind-boggling. And this does not factor in international flights where costs caused by delays are higher as passengers have to be put up in hotels.