The aerial objects that created a flutter at the Mumbai airport on Saturday, interrupting with the take-off and landing of two Jet Airways flights, could be weather balloons, officials of the aviation safety regulator said on Monday.
Sources in the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA) said the Indian Meteorological Department’s (IMD) airport bureau in Santacruz releases such balloons routinely to collect weather data. However, it has not been confirmed if the objects were indeed weather balloons.
“The weather balloons travelled from the southwest owing to the current wind pattern. Their flight paths match the location where the airport staff spotted the aerial objects,” said a senior DGCA official, requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media. The regulator will write to the weather bureau for confirmation, he said.
On Saturday evening, five small parachute-like objects were observed flying near the Mumbai airport, coming from the southwest direction and drifting northeast along with the wind.
The airfield staff alerted the air traffic control (ATC) tower, which in turn asked pilots lined up for take-off and landing to be cautious as the objects were crossing the runway intersection.
A Jet Airways flight, 9W-326 from Ahmedabad, was asked to abort landing at the last minute and another Jet Airways flight – 9W-323 to Ahmedabad – about to take off, was asked to hold its position on the airstrip.
IMD officials said weather balloons are set off every day, but such an incident has never taken place before.
“These balloons fly at an altitude much higher than the approach levels used by flights. Therefore, there are slim chances of them coming in the way of air traffic,” said SG Kamble, director of radar, IMD Mumbai airport bureau.
A weather balloon is a high altitude balloon which carries instruments aloft to send back information on atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity and wind speed using small, expendable measuring device called a radiosonde.