People flying in and out of the city are likely to face delays, diversions and even flight cancellations, warn airport officials, as another monsoon draws near.
Data from the civil aviation ministry shows that more than 190 flights that took off from Mumbai were frequently delayed (more than 20% of the time they were operated in a month) between June and September last year. This was higher than the annual average of 180 flights every month.
Airport officials said the inaccuracy in weather forecasts is one of the main reasons for delays during the monsoon. For instance, last July on a rainy day, an air traffic control (ATC) official advised a domestic airline pilot to turn right as the weather charts reflected cumulonimbus clouds – a towering vertical cloud containing thunderstorms – on the city-bound flight’s path. The pilot, however, sought permission for an alternative route because he could see turbulent weather on the route suggested by the ATC official. “We had to revise the flight paths of a dozen flights to the city because the India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) predictions were inaccurate,” said the ATC official.
Weather bureau officials claim there could be fewer such situations this year. The IMD on Sunday informed the chief minister’s office that the Doppler radar installed in Colaba is likely to be available for aviation services this monsoon.
“There are a few technical glitches in the radar, but we are hopeful that it will be functional by the end June,” said Sunil Kamble, deputy director, IMD, Mumbai.
The conventional radars that the IMD uses at the city airport offer hourly updates, but the Doppler is capable of delivering updates on cloud formation, wind patterns and frequency of rainfall every 15 minutes, Kamble said. “Real-time updates help airlines and air traffic managers plan better.” The IMD is pushing for another Doppler radar exclusively for the airport in its next five-year plan.
Currently, Mumbai’s air traffic depends upon an automatic weather station to plan journeys during the monsoon. The four-year-old setup works on weather data captured by sensors installed near both runways. The data is sent to a common platform via satellite. Users such as ATC and airlines have access to the data. ATC officials and airlines claim that 30% of the time, it is inaccurate.
“We have sent questionnaires our users. Depending on the feedback, we will work towards improving our services,” said Dinesh Chand Gupta, in charge of the IMD’s airport bureau.
The meteorological setup in India is not advanced.“The International Civil Aviation Organisation standards issued in 2007 are yet to implemented,” said Captain Mohan Ranganathan, a former member of the government-appointed Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council.