Operating airlines involves several challenges and one of them is financial losses incurred due to flight cancellations, delays or diversions forced due to unfavourable weather conditions. A recent study has found that post the implementation of CAT-III landing system at the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport, in New Delhi, there has been a significant drop in the losses incurred by airlines mainly due to fog.
Experts from Pune-based Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), India Meteorological Department (IMD) along with Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) have complied a study on a total of 653 hours of foggy conditions that prevailed during the winter months and its related impact on the operations of one airline from IGI between 2011 and 2016.
The Indo-Gangetic Basin, covering most parts of north India, experiences foggy conditions that can be of varying temporal and spatial cover. A peculiar feature about the fog observed over this belt is that it tends to persist for days and weeks together without dissipating fully. The study estimates that losses incurred by the airline due to fog during 2011-2012 stood at approximately Rs 115 crore (16.5 million USD), which soared to approximately Rs 840 crore (120.5 million USD) in 2014-2015. This year saw a very high number of fog incidents that lasted for longer durations.
With an aim to reduce the incidents of flight cancellations or delays triggered by fog, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), India Meteorological Department (IMD) and Airports Authority of India (AAI) had jointly drafted guidelines and implemented Category III for all flight landings at IGI during night and morning operations – the most precarious timing when flights get affected by fog.
Airlines face greater losses due to delays and cancellations triggered by fog when flight operations during early morning and evening hours are hit, than the rest of the day. Due to fog, the Air Traffic Control (ATC) is forced to increase the time interval for landing or take-off between two airlines than what is required on normal days. The study found that the airport capacity could drop by 40 per cent due to this.
Besides, aircraft take up higher Runway Occupancy Time (ROT) than on normal days, thereby crippling the otherwise smooth operations at the airport. As per the new guidelines, the aircraft should be refitted with a devise that guides pilots during landings and take-offs when the visibility is poor. Besides, it also mentions that the airline train its pilots and crew to operate flights during such low-visibility conditions.
“The losses incurred to the airlines when foggy conditions would affect their operations have since 2015 seen a drastic fall. The latest figure indicates that the airline made losses worth Rs 210 crore (30 million USD) during 2015-2016. This was achieved due to the strict implementation of the CAT-III landing system,” the study said.
“The device guides pilots with the horizontal visibility even when the visibility is extremely low,” Rachana Kulkarni, the lead author of the study, said. Of all the flight operations between 2011-2014, the DGCA found that various non-CAT III compliant flights failed to operate in low visibility conditions despite IGI offering world-class landing facilities.