Mumbai, Nov 15: If you are planning to catch a Delhi-Mumbai morning flight or a Bangalore-Chennai afternoon one this winter, chances are you will be held up at the airport for hours together. Fog, coupled with a drop in the number of available commanders, is set to disrupt flight schedules in a big way over the next few months.
The Met Department has forecast around 150 hours of less-than-50 metre visibility this winter. With Indian airports ill-equipped to handle operations during low visibility, delays and cancellations are likely to be the order of the day.
"Only one Indian airport (Delhi) and only one runway of that airport has a CAT-III-B landing facility," said a flight commander. A CAT-III-B Instrument Landing System allows for operations when runway visibility is as low as 50 metres.
To complicate matters, about 20 per cent of the 680 foreign pilots in India are expected to head home for the Christmas vacation. "This will mean more delays and cancellations," said a top airline official.
The financial forecast is as gloomy. The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, a consultant group, has estimated that fog delays will cost the Indian airline industry around Rs 60 crore this fiscal. Fog in India occurs primarily in winter. In addition, the government is determined to penalise airlines for not sticking to winter schedules.
Delhi got a taste of things to come on Tuesday. "Visibility dropped to 800 metres and there was absolute chaos at Delhi airport. Only runway 28 could be used. I had to wait an hour in the aircraft with passengers on board before we got clearance for engine start-up," said a check pilot of an international airline.
At Bangalore airport, fog is compounded by the presence of a large lake in the vicinity. "On November 5, visibility fell and operations were suspended. The minimum runway visibility required to operate at Bangalore is as high as 1,200 metres," said a top airline official.