Frequent cancellation of flights is leaving many air travelers in Mizoram grounded. More than the inclement weather, the absence of instrument landing system (ILS) in the state's lone airport is the problem.
The ILS was installed a couple of years ago, but the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has not yet approved its commissioning. Reason: Lengpui, Mizoram's lone airport, is yet to meet some civil aviation technical rules.
At least 25 flights in and out of Lengpui – this table-top airport is 40 km from State capital Aizawl – were cancelled in May and June this year. Besides, many flights to and from Kolkata and Guwahati were delayed for a total of 150 hours.
Air travel is the only 'fast' option for Mizos to visit other parts of the country. The alternative is an uncertain, circuitous road trip on National Highway 54. The highway connects Guwahati – it is Northeast India's communication hub – through southern Assam and Meghalaya.
This highway is prone to landslides during the monsoon months.
According to Lengpui Airport officials, the problem for air travelers has been compounded by the DGCA's inaction. The airport handles four flights every day besides a need-based small aircraft operated by a regional service provider.
"The ILS will ensure landing even when the visibility is 1,500 metres. Consequently, no flight will be cancelled," said an official on condition of anonymity. "The visibility at Lengpui never goes down below 2,500 metres, however bad the weather," he added.
As of now, an Airbus can land with visibility of 5,000 metres while the smaller ATR-42 needs 3,500 metres.
Lengpui Airport is included among the 11 critical airports in India due to the geographical location. To ensure flights take off and land here even in bad weather, the airport authorities spent Rs 1.68 crore to install the ILS.
To meet the technical rules as specified by DGCA, the top of the hills around the airport may have to be shaved off. This, airport officials say, is next to impossible.
The airport's runway was renovated a few weeks ago for Rs. 14.9 crore. Plans are also afoot to upgrade the runway for which Rs 55 crores has been sought from the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region.