The Telegraph
Thursday , December 13 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fliers suffer as airport flunks visibility test
- Planes allowed to land only after 2pm; experts bemoan short stretch of tarmac lights

Saifur Rab Abbasi, a resident of Shariff Colony, was supposed to fly to Abu Dhabi from New Delhi on Wednesday evening. But Abbasi missed the flight because he was stranded at Patna airport for seven hours.

“A connecting flight, which I had to take to New Delhi, arrived late at Patna airport,” the technician said. “Now, I shall have to stay in New Delhi and take a flight tomorrow (Thursday).”

He added: “I have already suffered a loss of Rs 20,000 for missing my flight to Abu Dhabi. I don’t know how much more I would have to shell out to buy new tickets.”

Like Abbasi, many who fly in or out of Patna during winter experience harrowing delays and schedule changes because of the thick fog, which envelopes the Bihar capital early in the morning or late in the evening.

Flights are allowed to land at Patna airport only when the visibility is 1,600m. This is because the tarmac lights, which show the pilots where the runway begins, are installed at a distance of 210m. Ideally, these lights should be installed at a distance of 420m before the runway. Then, flights can land with a visibility of only 800m.

Explaining the importance of the approach lighting system, Mirza Faizan, the chief executive officer of Bangalore-based Avembsys Technologies Pvt. Ltd and a Patna native, said: “The landing of planes depends on two aspects — decision height and runway visual lights. Decision height is the elevation at which the pilots have to decide whether to land or to turn around. The runway lights, usually strobe lights, guide the pilot on where to land.”

He added: “These are especially useful in poor visibility condition.”

At Patna airport, however, the runway lights are not of any great help. A senior Airports Authority of India officer, who did not want to be named, said: “During foggy conditions, visibility is very poor at Patna airport and flight operation gets disrupted. Even now, flights are landing only after 2pm. The reason for this is that the tarmac lights cannot be installed at the standard length because we don’t have any extra land.”

The sufferers of this scarcity are the passengers and flight operators. Air India has already cancelled its morning Delhi-Patna-Delhi flight till February 15.

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