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Fog on time, but pilots at sea

New Delhi, Dec. 12: Fog made its customary comeback to the Delhi airport today, holding up thousands of passengers across the country and giving the private firm running ground operations its first taste of the annual scourge.

Around 25 flights, most of them domestic, were delayed because of a thick blanket of fog that engulfed Delhi and reduced visibility to below 500 metres, early this morning.

The immediate impact was felt for three hours but the ripple effect threw schedules haywire much longer, causing delays in airports across the country, including that in Calcutta.

In some cases, passengers were made to sit inside planes on the ground in Delhi for as many as five hours. Among those who flew out of the capital today was Brinda Karat, whose party the CPM had opposed privatisation of airports.

This is the first season of fog after a private group GMR took over the ground operations of the airport, but there was little to suggest that the company had anything to do with the delays.

Delhi has the most modern equipment available CAT III B that enables landing when visibility is poor.

The bottleneck lies elsewhere. Many pilots of private airlines are not trained to land using the CAT III B system. Manpower-strapped airlines are loath to spare pilots for even a few days for training.

But one pilot said the ground operators could have streamlined the schedules better to give priority to planes equipped to land in foggy conditions. This could have reduced congestion to some extent, he said. But others said they had no evidence to suggest that this was not done this morning.

Fog had disrupted over 1,200 flights in Delhi last winter. The Delhi Met Office said the fog situation was not expected to improve till Thursday.

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