New Delhi: The aviation regulator has tightened rules for Airbus planes taking off in low visibility, a move that could mean more flight disruptions in a season when a thick blanket of winter fog covers most cities in northern India.
Kingfisher Airlines Ltd, National Aviation Co. of India Ltd-run Air India and InterGlobe Aviation Pvt. Ltd-run IndiGo, which fly mainly Airbus A320 planes on domestic routes, have until now been allowed takeoffs even in foggy conditions, provided there is at least 125m visibility.
Fogged out: An Air India plane at the IGI Airport in New Delhi on 14 January; 35 flights had to be rescheduled due to dense fog. DGCA has now made the 150m visibility norm mandatory for all airlines. Kamal Singh / PTI
Flights of Jet Airways (India) Ltd, with a fleet made up mainly of Boeing aircraft, and SpiceJet Ltd, with an all-Boeing fleet, had to wait until the visibility went up to 150m before taking off.
The visibility standards were in line with the technical requirements of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). “There was a special dispensation for three airlines for two years. Now it is 150m for everybody,” said a DGCA official who asked not to be named.
The order was issued to the three carriers earlier this week.
The order may worsen the woes of air travellers already struggling with flight cancellations, delays and diversions in Delhi and other parts of northern India because of fog. On Wednesday, the Capital was covered by the densest fog in seven years.
DGCA acted after the other carriers, at a meeting of a committee set up to deal with fog delays, complained of preferential treatment being given to some airlines.
“The issue was raised in the meeting—why certain airlines were allowed 125m? So it was decided to allow for a level playing field,” the same DGCA official cited above said.
A senior executive at a domestic airline affected by the new rules said the new restrictions were already leading to delays that could have otherwise been avoided.
“If Boeing aircraft are not certified (to fly in 125m visibility), it’s not the fault of others. For last two seasons it has been operating like that,” said the official, who didn’t want to be named.
An analyst said the move was hasty and DGCA should not have allowed takeoffs in visibility as low as 125m in the first place.
“They were wrong in giving the 125m clearance without proper guidelines and training,” said Mohan Ranganathan, a Chennai-based safety expert with 20,000 hours of flying experience. “To rush into the 150m requirement is another kneejerk reaction for short term fixes. LVTO (low visibility takeoff), unless backed by strict guidelines and training, is dangerous.”
Meanwhile, the air space over the Capital’s Indira Gandhi International Airport has been ordered closed for an hour each between 11.15am and 12.15pm for four days—Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday, when India celebrates Republic Day, adding extra pressure on airlines.
“Several flights get diverted to smaller airports like Jaipur from Delhi, (resulting in) extra food costs, rescheduling of bookings, and passengers ranting—it’s unending for us,” said the domestic airline executive cited above.