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Fog hit over 1,300 flights in Delhi

Despite the hundreds of millions of rupees spent to upgrade the airports about 1,335 flights failed to take off on time or were cancelled on foggy days.

india Updated: Feb 25, 2006 15:33 IST

The winter has ebbed and the morning fog is fading, but the civil aviation ministry's records show that over 1,300 flights from the New Delhi airport were delayed by fog this season despite the availability of a hi-tech system to address the problem.

Despite the hundreds of millions of rupees spent by the government to upgrade the navigational system at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, about 1,335 flights failed to take off on time or were cancelled on foggy days.

The new system - the category III-B (CAT III-B) class of instrument landing system (ILS) - can guide aircraft to land and take off when visibility is just above 50 metres.

Yet most domestic operators failed to take advantage of it and passengers were left stranded for hours at the cramped departure terminal at the airport, aviation ministry sources said.

The maximum delays were reported by Air Deccan, which had 805 flights thrown off schedule due to fog. Passengers travelling on this airline also reported the maximum inconveniences - being a low-cost carrier, it failed to provide even basic facilities in the wake of the delays.

Besides the lack of facilities, poor conditions at the airport added to the woes of passengers.

Jet Airways reported the second highest number of fog-related delays, with the figure standing at 227, followed by 72 affected flights of Spice Jet and 59 of Alliance.

According to the civil aviation ministry's figures, 43 flights of Kingfisher Airlines were also hit by fog.

"Most of these private airlines do not have pilots who are trained to operate in poor visibility by using the new ILS," said an official at the air traffic control.

Not only do the pilots need to undergo rigorous training to operate with CAT III-B systems, they also need authorisation from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

But, surprisingly, Indian Airlines - the only domestic airline in the country to have CAT III-B trained pilots - also reported 59 flights were affected by fog.

"Even in Indian Airlines, only 90 pilots out of a total strength of about 550 can use Cat III-B to steer flights off the ground under poor visibility," said an official.

One of the reasons why airlines seem to be reluctant to get their pilots trained to operate with the ILS is the high cost.

"The cost of the training is about Rs 1 million for each pilot," an official said, adding that the "companies are also unable to spare pilots for training due to a severe staff crunch".

A source close to the office of Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said: "Airline companies were called to the ministry for a meeting in December, during which the secretary (Ajay Prasad) impressed upon them to step up the training of their pilots.

"Since the system is new, the airline companies have asked for more time," the official said.

First Published: Feb 24, 2006 12:15 IST