Delhi airport shuts brand new runway

Anirban Chowdhury of The Business Standard reports that just four days after it was opened, the third runway at the Delhi airport was closed today after some crucial equipment stopped functioning. Operations were already restricted to daytime use after the runway lights failed over the weekend, rendering the runway unusable at night.

According to Air Traffic Controller sources at the Delhi airport, the decision to close the runway was taken after the instrument landing system (ILS), which guides aircraft to land when visibility is poor, stopped functioning in the morning.

As a result, the runway could not be used before 10:30 am and had to be shut down after 1:00 pm. (The ILS was not required during the period in-between). That left the runway with just 2.5 non-peal hours of operations with hardly any landings.

Several pilots told Business Standard that this could become a serious problem in the winter, which will descend on Delhi in a couple of months. “The faulty ILS could be a huge menace in the winters and will severely affect flights during low-visibility conditions because of the fog,” said a Jet Airways pilot.

Delhi accounts for almost a third of the total air traffic in the country. The airport was handed over to GMR-controlled Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL) in May 2006 for expansion and a facelift. The new runway was built to make its airport handle up to 60 flights in an hour, up from the existing 35-40, to reduce air congestion plaguing Delhi and Mumbai airports, help carriers save expensive jet fuel, and reduce waiting times for passengers.

The current problems could ground all these plans. A DIAL executive confirmed that the runway was practically closed today and only the primary and the secondary runways were used for flight operations.

However, a DIAL spokesperson defended the decision to close the runway: “As a part of the phased opening of the third runway, DIAL, the Air Traffic Controller and the Director General of Civil Aviation have agreed to ensure that any observation from users can be dealt with for further improvement and any minor work can be carried out as a new runway is also subject to daily inspections and maintenance.”

The runway’s ILS, he added, was configured for low-visibility conditions, which was not required under present conditions. As it consumes a lot of energy, work was going on to reconfigure it to current visibility.

Airline pilots, on their part, said that more than 40 per cent of the new runway, which is currently only used for landing, is unusable because of an adjacent tall statue that comes in its path. For landing purposes, the runway thus becomes even shorter in length than the primary runway.

“The aircraft gets a shorter length only when it comes from the side of the statue. However, even that length is good enough for larger aircraft like the A380,” said the DIAL spokesperson.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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