Airlines are largely to blame for flight disruptions at the Capital’s airport, rather than this winter’s first spell of dense fog, reveals a report submitted to the country’s aviation regulator.
The blinding fog between November 30 and December 3 affected more than 900 flights, forcing many to land at nearby airports.
A report compiled on the basis of daily records from the airport operator to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), listing reasons for delays and cancellations, says 811 flights were disrupted because airlines were not prepared to land in low visibility.Another 97 flights couldn’t operate because visibility dipped below 50 metres.
In foggy conditions, airports and aircraft use sophisticated landing systems with pilots trained to deal with low visibility, technically known as Category-III or CAT-III, which has three classifications.
The Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, which recorded 48 million passengers last year, has a long runway and equipment to assist instrument landing systems in extreme low visibility.
“There have been instances where airlines were found using CAT-III non-compliant planes for flights to Delhi during dense fog,” a DGCA official said.
The airlines denied the charge, saying they have a good strength of pilots trained to operate in CAT-IIIB conditions, when visibility is above 50 metres.
“At least 90% of our pilots are CAT-IIIB trained and all our planes are CAT-IIIB compliant,” said a spokesperson from private carrier Indigo, which has around 1,800 pilots. In a letter to the airlines, the DGCA specifically pulled up national carrier Air India, saying flights were diverted despite the runway visibility being above 125 metres.
Air India declined to comment on the flight diversions, but maintained that “we have an adequate number of pilots trained to deal with CAT-IIIB conditions”.
But an official with the aviation regulator said the problem is not with the number of trained many of them are deployed to fly when visibility dips”.
The DGCA letter says the diversions were the result of planes being flown by pilots not qualified for such extreme conditions.
Late arrival of flights, congestion in the taxiway, bad weather at landing destinations, and crew shortage added to the disruptions, leaving thousands of passengers stranded at the airport during the seasonal fog spell.