Delhi airport may have got a spanking new Rs 1,000 crore ‘see-through-the-fog’ landing system, but its functioning remains as opaque as ever. The Category IIIB Instrument Landing System (ILS) is meant to allow aircraft to land when the runway visibility is only up to 50 metres. What then explains the appalling mess that is the airport of the country’s capital that has led to so many flights being grounded? Could it be that the aviation authorities forgot to ensure that the radars that guide the plane into the docking bay after the ILS helps it land work effectively? That certainly seems to be the case. And so we can look forward to another nightmare winter of delays and cancellations all at the cost of the traveller.
But the shambolic state of the airport itself is only one part of the story. The airlines are equally to blame. The government has decreed that at least 30 per cent of pilots on an airline be trained to handle Cat IIIB. But the airlines simply refuse to invest in the $700 per hour training required for 10-20 hours a year for a pilot. Surely then, these airlines are penalised? The rather stunning fact is that they are not. Most of our airlines, unlike foreign carriers, do not have Cat III systems on board to help synchronise with those on the ground. So we have a situation where the airline blames the airport and vice versa. Meanwhile, the hapless passenger is left floundering about.
All the modernisation work going on at airports only seems to result in further chaos. The pile-ups at the airports means that even those airlines that have efficient landing systems are made to suffer and pay congestion charges for overcrowding the runways. We are almost into the holiday season. Tourism has dipped due to the global economic meltdown as well as paranoia due to the recent terror attacks. The least we can do is to ensure that those who are coming in from abroad and those travelling within the country get a smooth ride where it can be helped. The best we can hope for now is that the Rs 8,900 crore that is to be spent on Phase I of Delhi airport’s modernisation programme will actually yield real improvements. This would certainly serve as an example to other Indian metros. But till then, don’t be surprised if no one’s holding their breath.