All flights at the Indira Gandhi International Airport are handled by a team of only 10 Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) at any point of time. That makes it about 25 flights per ATC during peak hours.
The result: air-traffic chaos, half-hour to one-hour delays that have become a habit and a nightmare for the passengers.
For the past few months, the airport authorities have been blaming the delays and flight diversions on fog. On Thursday night too, dense fog caused delays and 18 flights were diverted.
On Friday again, several flights were delayed and 10 were diverted. The authorities this time blamed it on “strong winds”. Many passengers were not convinced. “I do not believe that was the reason,” said a passenger, whose Jet flight from Mumbai landed in Delhi five hours behind schedule.
He said it had been announced that the delay was caused by traffic congestion. When HT probed further on Saturday, it found that traffic congestion was a result of crumbling infrastructure and delays in pilots getting clearance from ATCs.
“The infrastructure at the airport is not at all equipped to handle the pressure of the large number of flights. With the limited manpower we have, there cannot be any better results,” said a senior ATC. In 2005, the airport handled 450 flights a day; in mid-2006, it was 550. Today, it is 650 a day.
The number of ATCs, however, is the same as four years ago, said an official. There are only 40 radar controllers — seniors who actually communicate with the pilots — working in shifts. The total ATC team is of 190 personnel.
“Not more than 10 ATCs handle the traffic at any given time when both the runways are in use, otherwise the number is just six,” the official said. “We should have 40 ATCs during simultaneous use of the runways.”
Director General of Civil Aviation Kanu Gohain said, “The ATC needs to be upgraded.”
“Recruitment is on in full swing and the situation will get better,” said T. Premnath, spokesman of the Airports Authority of India. But given that recruits who joined in 2000 are yet to become radar controllers, the future appears to be grim.