Late flights: Fog clears, blame game begins | india | Hindustan Times
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Late flights: Fog clears, blame game begins

The fog cleared on Sunday morning, bringing relief to officials and passengers at the Delhi airport, but it left behind a backlog of delayed flights, and a question that forever begs an explanation. Sidhartha Roy and Lalatendu Mishra examine...

india Updated: Jan 04, 2010 00:53 IST

The fog cleared on Sunday morning, bringing relief to officials and passengers at the Delhi airport, but it left behind a backlog of delayed flights, and a question that forever begs an explanation.

Why does this happen year after year?

Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport is the only airport in the country to have two runways equipped with CAT III-B Instrument Landing System – a technology that guides pilots to land even when visibility is cut to 50 metres.

However, it failed on Saturday, when the season’s first spell of dense fog engulfed Delhi. Nearly 200 flights were either delayed and diverted, or cancelled, stranding thousands of passengers.

“The airport operator will have to give an explanation as to how this happened,” said Kapil Kaul, India head of global aviation consultancy Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation. "This is something that needs to be looked at seriously.".

Finding an explanation won't be easy, however. Because the issue involves multiple stakeholders and a web of unclear briefs.

The overarching responsibility of maintaining the Instrument Landing System rests with the Airports Authority of India, but its key components are managed by the Meteorology Department and Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL), which operates the airport.

The Directorate General Civil Aviation pointed finger at the Met Department, which looks after the Runway Visual Range (RVR) measuring machines that update air traffic controller on visibility conditions. These machines did not work on either of the runways.

There are seven such machines at the airport, all connected to a common server through cables. DGCA officials said even the cables were damaged by ongoing digging work near the runway, and that could be a lapse on the part of DIAL.

DIAL did not comment on the allegations.

In a late Sunday statement, it said that the faulty cables had been repaired but the Met Department still needs to fix its equipment. At present one runway is capable of handling flights during fog and the main runway will be fog ready only by Monday afternoon.

Airlines said they were not to be blamed. They were as disappointed as the stranded passengers, because the chaos come despite airlines having spent millions in training pilots in CAT III-B category. Private airlines spend about Rs 20 lakhs on each pilot for this purpose, while state-run Air India — which has its own training facility in Hyderabad — spends about Rs 5 lakh per pilot.

Two years ago, airlines were mandated to train their pilots in CAT III-B category for flying into Delhi in winter months.

“We don’t have any control on what happened on Saturday,” said a spokesperson for Kingfisher Airlines.

Kingfisher has 283 pilots trained to operate flights in Category III-B conditions, but that didn’t help because the RVR machines on the runways didn’t work.

“The RVR machine was not working for last four days, why was the met department waiting for fog to come,” said a senior official at another airline, who didn’t want to be named.

This is not the first winter in which the Instrument Landing System that costs about Rs. 2 crore has developed a snag.

In December 2006, the ILS of Runway 28 couldn’t work because the RVR measuring machine wasn’t working. A year later, lighting system on two taxiways went off and hampered flight movements.

For CAT III-B ILS operations, every component of the system has to be in working condition, including taxiways and parking bays.