There appears to be a flight of common sense in the civil aviation sector. Or, is it unwillingness to find a solution to the problem of plenty (airlines) and inadequate space and infrastructure at airports? The flight delays and chaos at the IGI Airport over the last month or so have already caused a lot of heartburn among airline passengers. The IGI Airport, for years at an end, has been found ill-equipped to deal with low visibility factors like fog. But it does not look like this will lift with the passing of the winter months. The Civil Aviation Ministry has obviously not done the groundwork required to keep up with the increasing number of private, many of them no-frills, airlines that are crowding our air space.
Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel has been on a roll, issuing more and more licences to new airlines. There are reports that several private airlines may soon be joining the 12 scheduled airlines in the country and the 50-odd international airlines are now seeking parking bays at the already congested IGI Airport. Mr Patel is perhaps being driven by the obvious public enthusiasm over affordable air travel. But he must be extremely judicious in handing out fresh licences to airlines. The priority should be to upgrade infrastructure to keep pace with the demand.
The IGI Airport is already dealing with much more than it can handle. Cost escalation in terms of fuel lost when aircraft circle the airport is nothing compared to the disaster that is waiting to happen — there were 21 near misses of mid-air collisions in a year, according to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. We might not get so lucky in future. The most obvious solution is to build, on a war-footing, new airports to which some of the flights can be diverted. A new civil aviation policy is required to get past the hurdles in the way of a second, or even third, airport for the National Capital Region, and Mr Patel must not waste time in pushing this through. The upgradation and modernisation plans must not be allowed to become a political weapon for parties to use against each other. But even if all of these start immediately, it would be impractical to expect work to be completed for at least the next three years. Mr Patel would do well to minimise the enormous discomfort and loss that passengers suffer. The best way would be to stop issuing more licences to aviation operators for the moment.