For more than a decade now, the disruption in air traffic, because of fog at this time of the year, has been an issue. With each year, as the volume of travellers and services increases and the number of incoming tourists grows, the cost of the dislocation of air services grows exponentially. Apart from the monetary cost to airlines, there is an indirect cost to passengers whose schedules go awry and who are forced to bear the needless stress of waiting at airports trying to reach their destinations.
For years the aviation authorities have dilly-dallied over setting up a Category III A system, which would enable aircraft to land in visibility of 150 metres. There were problems galore — the authorities’ reluctance to shell out money for the system which, in their view, was needed for some two weeks in the year; voltage fluctuations that threw the sensitive systems out of gear and so on. Now we have the Cat III B system which can enable a pilot to land with just 50- metre visibility, but we are confronted by another problem — the reluctance of airlines to train their pilots in handling the system. Their logic is the same. Why spend money — Rs 3 lakh to start with and then Rs 2 lakh annually per pilot —for a problem that shows up only for a few weeks in the year. They argue that while fog is a problem in all northern airports, there is little point in investing so much on training when only the Delhi airport has a Cat III B system. The lack of such systems in other airports would cause consequential delays in any case. This is a point the aviation authorities need to consider as they seek to enhance the quality of India’s aviation infrastructure.
But the real issue today is not just one of economics, but of safety. Even in normal times, aircraft are queued over Delhi airport and have to sometimes wait up to an hour for their turn to land. In these circumstances of overcrowding, any error is likely to prove costly in terms of lives. Ensuring air operations in bad weather is no longer a matter of choice, but one of necessity.