Early arrivals of flights at congested airports may be a wish come true for passengers but has been a headache for air traffic controllers, particularly because of airlines’ practice of declaring a longer block time for a flight and arriving earlier than that. To rationalise the block timings, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) — which handles the country’s air navigation systems — has put in place a mechanism to monitor actual flight time at three of the busiest airports — Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru.
“The study will monitor actual departure and arrival times to the three airports based on which, AAI will submit a comprehensive road map for resolving all the issues identified during the course of study to the Ministry (of Civil Aviation) and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA),” Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha said on February 13 in response to a question in Rajya Sabha. “During course of year-long study, AAI will also monitor and log actual block timings followed by various airlines at various periods of day. AAI will share the data of actual flying time between city pairs with DGCA for rationalisation of block timings,” he added.
A senior official at the AAI pointed out that some airlines followed the practice of announcing longer block times and turned up before time, effectively portraying that they are arriving before time. However, this had a cascading effect on the other aircraft that are scheduled to land on a particular time slot. Following this, the ATC was directed to only allow aircraft to land as per landing slot time cleared prior to the flight. This would force aircraft to hover around its destination unnecessarily.
Block time is the duration taken by an aircraft to taxi-out to the runway of its origin airport, actual flying time, and the time taken to taxi to the arrival gate of its destination airport. According to a senior government official, discrepancies pertaining to different airlines setting different block times for same routes existed on a large scale for hundreds of different routes in the country. However, at some of the major airports, these have been rationalised up to an extent.
The issue of airlines inflating flight durations between two airports to bolster their on-time performance was first brought to the fore almost eight years ago but remains one of the key concerns underscored when it comes to satisfaction of consumers with airlines. Notwithstanding the initial plans of the aviation regulator to deal with the problem of non-uniform block times discussed in 2011, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, in its report tabled in Parliament in January last year on issues related to improving consumers’ satisfaction of airlines pointed out “erroneous” practice of “non-uniform block time” being followed by certain airlines and recommended all carriers to adhere to uniform block times.