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Indian pilots struggle in fog

Ehtasham Khan in New Delhi | January 02, 2004 13:30 IST

Despite proper facilities at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, most Indian pilots are not trained to land in foggy weather.

Every winter, delays due to fog hassle passengers flying in and out of the airport.

In a written reply to Parliament last month, Minister of State for Civil Aviation Rajiv Pratap Rudy said: "Directorate General of Civil Aviation is continuously monitoring the progress of training of pilots on automatic landing systems."

Three years ago the airport installed Category IIIa landing system at a cost of Rs 48 crore to allow aircraft to land when runway visibility is up to 200 metres.

The system illuminates the runway and the lighting is synchronised with the computer in the aircraft.

An IGIA official told "It all depends on the ability of the pilot whether he can use the system or not. Unfortunately, most of the Indian pilots are not trained to use it. Therefore, we have this problem every year."

Foreign pilots, he said, are well trained to handle such situations.

Last month this facility was used for the first time when two Indian Airlines aircraft took off in low visibility. Some other IA planes soon followed suit.

"Some of the Indian Airlines aircrafts are using this system. But it will take some time to train all the pilots. Also, private airlines are not yet equipped with this. We need some time to fully use this system," the official said.

"They [private airlines] don't want to spend on training because the foggy condition is just for about a month," he said.

Germany's Lufthansa pilots are best trained to tackle such situations.

"This is because their country is covered with fog for a long time every year," the official said.

Harbhajan Singh, spokesperson, IGIA, said: "The airlines have their own policy regarding landing of aircrafts. Most of them don't want to take risk.

"Pilots are being trained and it will take some time. Regular meetings are being held with the air services on this issue."

Another problem is that many times the visibility in Delhi is as low as 50 metres. The Category IIIa system then becomes useless.

He said there is Category IIIc landing system where aircrafts can land even in zero visibility. This has not yet been installed because it needs certain prerequisites.

"It needs to have no movement in the radius of 2 km around the runway. This is very difficult in a place like ours. Therefore it is quite risky," said Singh.

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