New ATC handled 1,438 flights in a day, a record

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Published on Dec 26, 2019 12:10 AM IST
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ByAnvit Srivastava

New Delhi In less than five months since having started operations from the new building, the Delhi Air Traffic Control (ATC) has set the record for handling the most flight operations in a day in the country. The record — operations of 1,438 flight in one day, including both landings and take-offs — was achieved in the last week of November.

Officials said that the record has overshadowed the ATC’s past record of 1,398 flight operations in a day, recorded in March. Also, the new record implies that the Delhi ATC handles almost one flight operation per minute.

The ATC officials credited their new set-up for their latest achievement. A senior officer, who is not authorised to speak to media, said the new tower that is 101.9 metres high, 41 metres taller than the old one and not only gives them a better 360-degree view of all three runways, but also has space for 18 additional workstations.

“This makes space for more controllers, improving efficiency manyfold. We could also divide the air space into nine sectors, from the earlier five, lowering work pressure per controller,” he said.

Another officer said that the record is contrary to what is usually seen after a change of the entire set-up.

“Often, across the world, it has been seen as a trend that when an ATC changes its place of function, there is a slight dip in the handling capacity. It is commendable that our controllers not just managed to maintain the pace, but even took it to a record level,” the officer said, requesting anonymity.

However, the officer said setting a record is not new for them. Earlier, in March, a record was set from the old campus on the Delhi airport, when 1,398 flight operations were conducted in a day, he said.

“In 2019, the average number of flights handled by our crew in one day is 1,350. Delhi airport has witnessed a constant rise in air traffic. Five years ago, in 2015, the average number of flights handled at IGI Airport in a day was 965. In 2016, it grew to 1,120 and to 1,237 in 2017. In 2018 the number went up to 1,331,” the officer said.

INSIDE THE DELHI ATC

Each controller handles at least 50 flights an hour and on hectic days, the number is higher. Communication between an air traffic controller and a pilot takes place in phraseology to maintain uniformity across the globe. A controller directs the pilot from the moment the plane is ready for start-up at the airport of departure until the time it is parked at the destination airport.

Explaining the sensitivity of their job, a controller said that an airborne plane flies at a speed of approximately 800-900 kilometres per hour (kmph).

“It is always a race against time. A pilot has less reaction time to see and avoid an aircraft in the vicinity. There is no room for risk. A second of distraction can lead to disaster when hundreds of people are travelling at a height of more than 30,000 feet,” the controller said.

He said when they are on duty, they are stuck to computer screens displaying several yellow aeroplane shaped markers, with each marker depicting the status of one plane. When a controller clicks on one yellow marker, a small information box pops out, showing the aircraft’s name and type, current speed, level of elevation, destination and originating airport, the official said.

CHALLENGES

The jurisdiction of the Delhi ATC spans over a radius of 250 nautical miles (450km) around Delhi. Multiple runway operations and frequent VIP movements make Delhi ATC operators among the busiest in India.

As a result, Delhi airport takes feed from 10 radars. It also receives feed from five other radars — Amritsar, Varanasi, Lucknow, Udaipur and Bhopal — for integrated surveillance.

However, the biggest challenge that Delhi ATC faces is an acute staff shortage. Officials said that the overall air traffic recorded in the Delhi in 1995-96 was 76,000, in comparison to 326,000 in 2014-15 and 486,000 by 2018-end.

“The number is expected to rise up to 817,000 by 2035-36. We need more staff. To train a controller takes four to five years, but air traffic grows continuously. At present, we have a shortage of around 20-25% in Delhi air traffic control,” the officer said.

The staff crunch is also a major concern because the Delhi airport operator has planned a fourth runway, which is expected to be operational by 2021. This will further increase the load on the controllers as the frequency of simultaneous flight operations will increase.

In addition, the Hindon airbase, inaugurated in March, has also started catering to civilian flights from October, thereby, increasing the load on the Delhi ATC.

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