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Runway visibility tool, made in India

New Delhi, May 22: A visibility measurement instrument developed by Indian scientists will be installed at 40 airports across the country over the next two years and could help India enter a market that scientists say is dominated by Australian and European products.

The National Aerospace Laboratories, Bangalore, and the India Meteorological Department announced today that they would jointly produce the NAL-designed instrument that was field-tested near airport runways in Calcutta, Delhi and Lucknow over the past three years.

The instrument, called a transmissometer, is designed to provide information on runway visibility that is critical for landings and take-offs, NAL scientists said. Under their joint initiative, the NAL and the IMD would install 70 transmissometers at over 40 airports in the country in two years.

All Indian airports, the NAL scientists said, have been using transmissometers imported mainly from Australia or Finland.

“We’re promising reliable visibility measurements at reasonable costs,” Shyam Chetty, the NAL director, told The Telegraph over the phone from Bangalore. “This has been a 20-year research effort — and we’re happy that it has worked out.”

The NAL product, scientists said, will cost about Rs 25 lakh, only about a third of what the imported instruments cost. Its low price and comparable performance, they are hoping, will also draw interest from other countries.

A UK-based firm, Chetty said, has shown an interest in procuring the NAL transmissometer and marketing it in Europe and elsewhere, although there is no formal pact yet.

The transmissometer was developed by a team led by Shubha Venkatesha Iyengar, head of materials sciences who’s spent 40 years at NAL designing and fabricating instruments — from heat-resistant composites that can tolerate 3,000C to instruments for physics laboratories.

The visibility measurement instrument is made up of a lamp and a sensor placed 30 metres away that detects light from the lamp and generates a figure for visibility — from less than 25 metres to more than 2km.

“The instrument combines optics, filters, software and signal processing,” Shubha told this newspaper. The sensor will catch all the light that falls on it, but we use filters to ensure it extracts only the light from the lamp for determining the visibility.”

The NAL installed its first instrument at Lucknow airport three years ago, then deployed five at Delhi airport two years ago, and one at Calcutta airport 18 months ago. The decision for joint production, Chetty said, was taken after detailed observations of these instruments’ performance through these field tests.