The lack of adequately trained people to manage landings and take offs may be an important reason for delays and congestion in airports across India—something that was initially attributed to an increase in air traffic because of a rise in the number of airlines operating in the country.
The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has, in a reply to a Right to Information (RTI) plea filed by an employee, Anoop Kumar Gupta, posted with its Communication, Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) wing, admitted that many technicians who maintain complex landing and communication equipment at the air traffic control (ATC) towers had not been trained on the new generation equipment.
These technicians are attached to the CNS wing of AAI and are required to attend to malfunctioning landing system and radars.
The Authority has admitted that it was unable to meet the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) standards framed in 1994, which mandate that personnel entrusted with maintenance “should undergo periodical on-the-job checks at least once a year and refresher course at least once in three years.” The AAI has admitted that the only training that all CNS employees have undergone was the “Ab-initio training after recruitment where principles of operation of all CNS equipment are covered.”
People familiar with the developments in the CNS department spoke to Mint on condition of anonymity, saying less than half the staff was properly trained. The CNS wing is entrusted with the maintenance of equipment such as the Instrument Landing System, which provides precise guidance to an aircraft approaching a runway, radars and VHF Omni Range, which helps planes flying at the same altitude maintain lateral distance.
According to a CNS staffer who did not wish to be identified, of the 150 people in the CNS department at the Delhi airport, only 30 have received specialized training. The ATC has been able to tide over this as each piece of equipment has a back-up, he said.
According to another CNS staffer who also did not wish to be identified, the lack of trained personnel also contributes to delays in landings.
When visibility is particularly poor, the ATC in Delhi uses a higher grade of Instrument Landing System known as CAT III B. This guides the pilot up to the point where the plane halts after touchdown. When this system fails as there is no back-up fro CAT III-B, the ATC is forced to downgrade to CAT I landing system. In such cases, pilots may be forced to hover until they can see the centre line clearly. “This happens all the time in winters,” said a technician. So far, the Delhi airport is the only CAT IIIB-compliant airport across the region, including South East Asia and West Asia, he said.
Friction between CNS technicians and ATC staff came to a head in June 2006, when a security lapse was blamed on CNS and led to a suspension of two staffers.
An Air Force plane carrying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lost contact with ATC as it was preparing to descend at the Delhi airport. As the plane prepared to land, the pilot switched to the special frequency on which he could communicate with the ATC.
When the operator at the tower was unable to maintain contact on the special frequency, the pilot was forced to switch to the general frequency enabling other aircraft in the vicinity to pick up the messages from the PM’s aircraft.
An inquiry was ordered and two officers with the CNS wing were suspended. CNS staffers say that when they checked the VHF set later it was found to be functioning normally.
Mint contacted AAI by email as well as by telephone, but the organization’s spokesperson did not comment on the security lapse or the lack of trained personnel. A spokesperson for the civil aviation ministry said the subject was under the purview of AAI and that the ministry would not wish to comment on the issue.