VIP flights force 3 jets to land with no fuel to spare


- dEsPeraTe cRaNky -
Three days after the Mangalore aircrash, three planes that had been diverted from Delhi airport on account of VIP movement, had a narrow shave when they all but ran out of fuel above Jaipur airport. The three flights had more than 450 passengers on board at the time.

Wednesday's Jetlite flight JLL 108 from Mumbai landed with just enough fuel to remain airborne for three minutes. The Mumbai-Delhi Kingfisher flight IT 300 landed just 10 minutes before its fuel tank ran dry. Jet Airways 9W 2357 from Chennai made it onto the runway with fuel for just 13 minutes of flying time. Both Jet planes were Boeing 737s and carried 192 and 174 people each.

The Kingfisher plane was an Airbus 330 and had 158 people on board. Wednesday saw 11 flights diverted to Jaipur, Chandigarh and Lucknow, even as 20 others were forced to circle Delhi airport for an hour starting 9am. The airport was closed because of President Pratibha Patil's flight to China and Turkmenistan president Gurbanguly Berdimunha-medov's flight to Agra.

The tension built up for planes queuing to land at Jaipur as challenging weather - gusts of wind and a duststorm - worsened conditions already difficult because of the absence of approach radar to monitor flight movement.

Planes are supposed to carry enough fuel to fly to a nearby airport in case of an emergency but the uncertainty over the VIP planes' take-off had them circling in the air till they got to Jaipur with little fuel left. The pilots have filed 'flight safety reports' detailing the emergency situation to the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

VIP movement nearly caused an aviation disaster when three planes, with more than 450 passengers, nearly ran out of fuel when they were diverted from Delhi to Jaipur airport. The pilots of Jetlite flight JLL 108, Kingfisher flight IT 300 and Jet Airways 9W 2357 were caught unawares as there was no Notam (notice to airmen) about the closure of airspace until they reached Delhi.

Airports Authority of India authorities said the practice of issuing Notam during VIP movements has been stopped due to security reasons and Wednesday's flap was unforeseen. "Usually there is only a three-minute shutdown of airspace during VIP movement. But on Wednesday, the Turkmenistan president's flight got delayed because of bad weather in Agra, resulting in diversions and go-arounds," PK Mishra, AAI general manager, air traffic maintenance, told TOI.

The three flights were using up the final reserve fuel when they declared emergency. "The Kingfisher flight which first declared fuel emergency was allowed to land. The Jet Airlines flight, which had only 10 minutes of fuel left, declared emergency next, but it gave way to a Jetlite flight which radioed an emergency declaration," said a source.