Fog delays flights: aviation regulator helpless

December 24th, 2008 - 9:11 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 24 (IANS) An under-staffed aviation regulator is finding it difficult to crack down on airlines guilty of not doing enough to avoid flight delays due to dense winter fog, officials say.There are 170 officials in the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the body that regulates the aviation sector in country. “But the strength ideally should be about 650, as the aviation sector is expanding,” said a senior DGCA official.

The DGCA is trying to force airlines operators to toe guidelines to be followed during extreme foggy conditions, as is the case now. After drawing universal flak for not doing enough, DGCA has now formed a two-member team for checking details of pilots who fly on the Delhi sector.

“There have been reports that the airlines are not adhering to DGCA’s instructions of rostering pilots with CAT III training that is needed to fly in foggy conditions. The team will look into such discrepancies and suitable action will be taken,” said a senior DGCA official.

All three runways at the delhi airport have CAT III operation equipment for facilitating pilots to land and take off during poor visibility conditions.

When asked whether two officials are adequate as Delhi airport clocks over 60 flight movements an hour, the official said: “In this situation, the DGCA has to make do with only two officials for Delhi airport, but it is anybody’s guess whether this serves the purpose or not.”

During dense fog, only those pilots who have undergone training for using the CAT III are allowed to fly while others have to wait for visibility to improve and this delays flights.

The two-member DGCA team is required to find the details of pilots’ training, and establish reasons behind flight delays, cancellations and route diversion. The official said two people cannot do anything more than this.

“Deploying two DGCA officials will not be of much use because the airlines as a cost-cutting moves don’t give much emphasis on training pilots for the expensive CAT III training,” said a senior ministry official.

In Europe, aviation regulators deploy trained people round-the-clock and are generally ready to tackle fog much before it sets in to minimise delays. But at the Delhi airport, this is more of a knee-jerk response.

On five occasions this month, fog had thrown air traffic out of gear, with flights being cancelled, rescheduled and diverted despite the fact that the airport boasts of a state-of-the-art third runway.

Civil aviation ministry officials blame both the DGCA and airline operators for the mess at the airport during fog.

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