A crackling voice on the walkie-talkie gives rapid updates on the crawling air traffic at the Mumbai airport as M.G. Jhungare looks through his binoculars out of a huge glass window that gives an unobstructed view of the airfield.
The chief of Air Traffic Control (ATC) in the country’s busiest airport badly needs the secondary runway that has been shut for repairs since October 1. “I do not think we will get it before mid-March,” said Jhungare. The runway has the capacity to handle 150 departures daily.
Jhungare aspired to be a pilot but couldn’t afford the training fee. “I chose air navigation, which for me, was the next best option,” said the 49-year-old.
The ongoing runway repairs have doubled the pressure on Jhungare’s team of 200-odd air navigators. “Earlier, our job ended after touchdown. Now, our officers have to guide aircraft all the way to the parking bay.”
The increasing air traffic is adding to his worries. Daily 700 flights take off and land at the city airport — 50 flight movements more than a month ago. In addition, the Mumbai ATC handles 1,200 flights that pass through the city’s aerospace every day.
“Delays are inevitable. We are trying our best to cut down delays.”
Fliers, however, can expect some good news by this monsoon. Advance air navigational technology, expected to be installed by mid-June, is likely to ease air traffic flow.
For instance, air traffic controllers will know the time an aircraft will take for touchdown even while it is hovering above the airport courtesy a system called the Integrated Arrival Manager. “This will enable us to control the traffic flow better,” said Jhungare.
Similarly, the Airport Surface Movement Control and Guidance System — a digital chart of all vehicular movement on the airfield — will also help streamline ground traffic.
“As of now, the controller cannot monitor traffic on the airfield beyond his view. Two surface movement radars in this system give him a complete picture of airfield traffic.”
Averting mid-air collisions will also get easier once the new ‘alert and warning system’ is in place.
The system will alert the controller if two aircraft are flying too close to each other.