Growing air traffic seems to have taken a toll on Delhi airport as it emerged as the most unsafe airport in the country, with maximum incidents of air miss – when two or more aircraft fly dangerously close to each other.
While the Capital witnessed 21 such instances in the last three and a half years, it was closely followed by Chennai (20), Mumbai (18) and Kolkata (17).
According to rules, aircraft must maintain a minimum vertical separation of 1,000 feet at all times. If any plane breaches this distance, it is termed a ‘near air miss’. According to aviation regulator DGCA, several steps have been taken to reduce occurrences of air miss as they put lives at risk.
Aviation officials said Delhi tops the list because it is the busiest airport of the country and deals with 850 aircraft movements daily. “Delhi and Mumbai handle about 40% of the country’s total air traffic and, so, 50% of these incidents took place in the airspace of these two airports,” said a DGCA official, requesting anonymity.
In February, more than 500 passengers had a narrow escape when a mid-air collision was averted after an Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter jet came dangerously close to two international flights. The Sukhoi, which was supposed to fly at 22,000 feet, dropped to 13,000 feet and came within 700 feet of the two planes.
“India has seen an aviation boom in the past few years resulting in an increased number of flights. But the number of ATC workers who control flight movement has hardly grown,” the official added.
DGCA said that it is in the process of modernising ATC facilities, including conflict warning systems that have already been installed.
Apart from conducting surprise proficiency checks on pilots and air traffic controllers, the aviation regulator has also recommended flexible use of airspace to reduce congestion in the skies. “We are also preparing case studies of such incidents so that they can be analysed and mistakes are not repeated. Airlines have also been asked to do away with confusing call signs,” the official said.
Between 2002 and 2008, 129 cases of near air miss were recorded in the country, many involving foreign airlines.