The airport operator’s claims of being fog-prepared came to a naught on Monday, when flight operations to and from Delhi struggled with at least 10 hours of near-zero visibility conditions due to dense fog at the Indira Gandhi International Airport.
During this time, several flights, despite being CAT III-compliant, had to be delayed or diverted to other destinations — some because of the weather conditions, and others because of a curious lack of ‘Follow Me’ vehicles to be provided by the operator, Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL).
According to the air traffic controllers (ATC), lack of sufficient number of ‘Follow Me’ jeeps to escort aircraft from the runway to the bay forced it to hold up more flights for longer durations.
Officials said even CAT III-compliant aircraft need to be escorted by ‘Follow Me’ jeeps to vacate the runway and to taxi to the bay after landing as the pilot is unable to sight the way from the cockpit under zero-visibility conditions.
For 10 hours between 11.30 pm on December 28 and 9.30 am on December 29, no flights could be operated from Runway 29-11 at the IGI Airport, which had runway visibility range (RVR) of less than 50 metre. Only one runway, 28-10, had RVR above 100 metre, making it viable for only Category III-compliant aircraft to operate.
“Even CAT III-compliant aircraft need ‘Follow Me’ jeeps as taxiing is a problem. Departing flights need them to taxi from the bay to runway. Unless an aircraft vacates the runway, the next aircraft would not be able to land even if the RVR improves temporarily,” a senior official said.
During a time frame when ATC was managing at least 10 flights over Delhi, DIAL had only three escort vehicles, the official claimed.
DIAL, however, said there was “no Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on the number of ‘Follow Me’ vehicles that an airport operator is supposed to maintain”. The operator said it had “adequate” number of escort vehicles and that “in all cases so far” it has “been able to provide services whenever the pilot has asked for it”. “There has been no request for a ‘Follow Me’ vehicle at the runway during this fog season. Follow-me services are offered whenever requested by a pilot to guide the aircraft to the parking bay,” DIAL said.