Delhi AIRPORT new runway fails fog test

deepak pace

For four days in December, pilots have dealt with a visibility of less than 100 metres while landing at Delhi airport.

Delhi's new runway, just four months old, is specially designed to handle that. But pilots say a statue of Lord Shiva on the Gurgaon side of the runway makes it impossible to use in fog.

"Even on normal days, we are scared of landing on the runway because the first 1000 metres are practically unusable. We have very little space to actually land the aircraft and then pull the brakes. In case of a foggy situation, I would be extremely wary of landing my aircraft on this runway," said Captain Kapil Raina, President of the All India Pilots Association.

So, have the 1000 crore spent on the new runway been wasted? Officials in charge of the Delhi airport refused to comment on this but the runway has not been used for any take-offs during extreme fog.

As for airlines, they are facing unprecedented losses. Training for flying in fog costs Rs 10 lakh per pilot and it takes Rs 55 crore to equip each plane to land when fog is at its worst.

Currently, only three private airlines -- Kingfisher, IndiGo and Go Air -- can handle these conditions. Other airlines say the investment is just not worth it.

"It's expensive to carry out modifications in the aircraft. We feel it is not worth it because extreme fog conditions happen in Delhi for just three or four days," said Captain Jack Eckle, Head Operations, Spice Jet.

Training pilots also means they have to be de-rostered from the duty. But with the airline industry already grappling from a shortage of pilots, and some pilots being laid off in the fast few months, that, say airlines, is just not possible.

Last year, the government has warned airlines that if they can't handle fog they will not be allowed to use the airport in the morning. But that threat has not been carried out. And so, as the winter enters its worst phase, get ready for more delays.