NEW DELHI: With 21 per cent more flights allowed by aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), advancing foggy conditions this winter in addition to no new nearby airports to fall back on for flight diversions, India’s largest and busiest Indira Gandhi International Airport (DIAL) in New Delhi could witness more flight delays and cancellations during the ensuing foggy cold season.
A top official with DGCA told Express that two of the nearest airports — Amritsar and Lucknow — operated by state-run Airports Authority of India (AAI) have missed two deadlines in their bid to be CAT III-B compliant by October 30.
The CAT III-B level of instrument landing system (ILS) enables aircraft to land when the visibility is down to 50 metres. It guides an aircraft in approaching and landing on a runway by a combination of radio signals and high-intensity lighting arrays. Besides, ILS also helps pilots while landing during heavy rainfall.
The DGCA official explained that they expect Amritsar airport to be CAT III B-ready by December-end or January next year. But by then, most of the mess due to the winter fog would be nearing its end,
the official added.
A thick blanket of fog starts building up over Delhi and other parts of northern India around the third week of December and continues for over a month. Last winter, foggy conditions prevailed at the IGI airport for over a month from the third week of December 2015 to the first week of February 2016. Many morning flights were either cancelled or delayed due to extreme fog conditions during this period. Currently, the Jaipur airport is the only nearby option for incoming flights which could be diverted there in case of extreme foggy conditions as it has CAT III-B-level ILS.
DGCA sources said due to non-availability of ILS at Amritsar and Lucknow airports again this winter, Jaipur alone may not be able to handle the diverted flights from Delhi once the dense fog engulfs the
national capital and flights would have to be diverted to faraway destinations like Ahmedabad or Nagpur.
Delhi’s IGI Airport has CAT III-B equipment but flights are diverted to nearby airports if visibility drops below 50 metres, which is a frequent phenomenon during the peak winter season around the
third week of December. The situation may continue for at least three weeks at a stretch. In anticipation, airlines, during extreme foggy conditions, cancel flights to Delhi as any diversion beyond Jaipur increases their operational expenses. They also need to facilitate food and hotel stay for passengers.
Adding to the problem is the advancing of foggy conditions over northern India. Another DGCA official said they have been alerted by the Meteorological Department that the foggy conditions over
northern India could advance to early December.
“This could mean more flight cancellations and delays as we don’t have airports other than Jaipur to fall back on to divert incoming flights to Delhi in case of a thick blanket of fog,” the official pointed out.
Meteorological Department officials here are of the view that a good monsoon this year and early winter setting in could prolong foggy conditions in the national capital and northern India.
Another issue that could add to the problem is the 21 per cent more domestic flights for the winter schedule — that began on October 30 — compared with the year-ago period.
The aviation regulator has approved a total of 16,600 flights per week by domestic carriers, compared to 13,744 flights allowed during the winter schedule last year.
“More flights mean more congestion at the Delhi airport this foggy winter. This could mean more flight cancellations and delays,” said an industry insider.
While the winter schedule runs from the last Sunday of October to the last Sunday of March the following year, the summer schedule covers the rest of the year.