Srinagar’s Delhi moment: When thick smog shut its airport for over 10 days

Flight operations have been badly affected at Srinagar airport due to poor visibility caused by smog. Why did this happen? Was it expected? Can it happen again?

Written by Mir Ehsan | Updated: December 1, 2016 12:17 pm
kashmir flights, poor visibility in srinagar, flight cancellations in srinagar, fog conditions at srinagar airport, srinagar airport, kashmir news, india news, latest news, indian express A blanket of fog and smog over the Dal Lake last week. Poor visibility due to smog has affected flights at Srinagar airport on several days this month. (Express Photo: Shuaib Masoodi)

When did flights start getting disrupted at Srinagar International airport? How many flights were cancelled or delayed?

Flights at Srinagar International Airport started getting cancelled from November 17 onward. More than 60 flight operations at the airport were cancelled this month. From Sunday, after an improvement in visibility and some sunshine, flights have resumed. More than 15 flights currently operate from the airport daily.

Is it common for Srinagar to face such a situation at this time of the year?

Flight disruptions due to smog in the month of November have become common only in the last two years. Met Department officials, after going through data for the past 30 years, say smog has been the reason for disruption in air traffic only in 2015 and 2016. This year has also seen a remarkably long period of disruption. Snowfall or heavy rain in winter does lead to fights getting delayed or cancelled as visibility falls, however.

WATCH VIDEO: Dense Fog Across North India

So why has Srinagar been hit by smog over the last two years?

November is the time for smog because it is the period of transition between autumn and winter in the Valley, Met officials said. This is also the time when people usually burn leaves, charcoal and wood. Cement factories and brick kilns add to the pollution, though it is limited to only some areas. Like everywhere, the number of vehicles and levels of vehicular pollution have both increased in Srinagar — even though the four-month strike saw very few vehicles on the roads and most factories were shut. However, construction continued across Kashmir, as did the burning of leaves and charcoal.

Many experts are of the opinion that smog and air pollution increased after the floods of 2014, due to the dismantling of wrecked houses and fresh construction on a mass scale across Kashmir. Another view is that dry weather lifts the essentially loose soil of Kashmir into the air, adding to the levels of particulate matter. There is no consensus, however, on why the smog descended on the Valley for more than 10 days this month.

Is there a connection between the smog in Srinagar and the smog that smothered Delhi for several days beginning Diwali?

The smog in Kashmir has no organic connection with the smog in Delhi, Met officials said, even though it is caused by atmospheric conditions that were in some ways similar. In Kashmir, pollutants and fine dust particles trapped in the atmosphere could not be dissipated due to dry weather and the absence of rain or snow. Something similar happened in Delhi as well. Last Friday, after snowfall in the upper reaches, visibility improved, and the sky became clearer; in Delhi too, the clearing of the air was accompanied by a wind picking up.

Is there a possibility of similar conditions returning to the airport again?

Met officials studying weather patterns say there is no such possibility at least in the next few weeks. However, they have not ruled out similar conditions over Srinagar and in other parts of the Valley in the coming years. The installation of an Instrument Landing System (ILS) at Srinagar airport will help aircraft land and take off even in poor visibility conditions, or at night. Since Srinagar airport is a defence airport, the proposal for the upgradation has already been sent to the Air Force — however, officials say they have been waiting to see concrete results for several years now. Airport officials now say they are hopeful that the ILS would be installed by 2018.