Politics forces under-utilisation of Delhi airport’s latest biggest and best runway

In a major step the Government of India has imposed the first night curfew at an Indian airport.

To allow the residents of the neighbouring and very upmarket Vasant Kunj area to have a peaceful night, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has restricted with immediate effect any aircraft movement, at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport’s (IGIA) newest runway 29-11 between 22:00 and 06:00 local (16:30Z-00:30Z).

The Working Group on Noise Abatement procedures constituted by Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has recommended the following procedures.

  • The use of Runway 29 for landings has been restricted between 2200 hrs and 0600 hrs. This would benefit residents of localities in the approach path of runway as there would be no flight landing movement during the night. Runway 29 will be used only for take-offs and all landing will be done at Runway 28 during this restrictive period. However, in emergency cases landings may be allowed on Runway 29.
  • Pilots landing on Runway 29 between 2000 hrs and 2200 hrs have been advised to avoid using thrust reversers. However, pilots shall have authority to use thrust reverses in case of need depending on his judgment.

This move has significant ramifications both at New Delhi as well as across the country.

Most international flights to and from India either land or take-off between 22:00 and 02:00. These allows for a night departure and an early morning arrival in either Europe, ASEAN (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand), Hong Kong, and Japan. Even flights between India and the middle-east have a 03:00-05:00 arrival and departure window for a similar early morning arrival. This action by the DGCA is going to open a pandora’s box in Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and other legacy international airports in India.

In Delhi, 11-29 is a state of the art runway, one of the longest in Asia at 4430 meters, and at 75 meter width, specifically constructed to cater to Code F aircraft like the Airbus A380 and Antonov AN-225 which will operate international routes. Inaugurated in August 2008 it cost Rs. 10 billion ($200 million) and features the advanced Cat IIIB instrument landing system which is utilised, during the notorious Delhi fog, mostly by international airlines with their Cat IIIB certified pilots.

While the press release from airport operator DIAL says

These remedial steps were suggested to the Working Group by DIAL in consultation with various stakeholders such as Airlines, AAI / ATC, DGCA while keeping in mind the interest of the residents of neighbourhoods around the airport.

I cannot help but notice that the noise reduction is benefiting only the very upmarket and politically super connected residents of the Vasant Kunj area which is due east of the airport i.e. along runway 11 for take-off and runway 29 for landing. The more middle class and politically unconnected area of Dwarka which is west of the airport will have to bear the brunt. Similarly the middle class neighbourhoods of Munirka, RK Puram and Basant Lok will bear the brunt of noise of aircraft landing on runway 28.

Delhi Airport Map Google Satellite view with approaches for runway 10-28 and 11-29 Vasant Kunj, Munirka, Dwarka, Vasant Vihar and Basant Lok
This whole exercise reeks of the worst form of politics that plagues India.

It is the DGCA which has to approve plans for construction and upon construction certify a runway ready for use.

  • Where were they and their master the Minister of Civil Aviation during the approvals for construction of runway 11-29?
  • Why was construction and this massive expenditure permitted if it was not going to be used?
  • Why no noise reduction for the less “connected” residents of the other neighbourhoods? Are they any less citizens of Delhi? Or are we living in Goerge Orwell’s 1984 with some citizens more equal than others?

This forced under-utilisation of the Rs. 1,000 Crore runway will translate to higher costs to us air travellers and industry who use air freight. Is the government willing to impose a “night curfew tax” on the Vasant Kunj residents to recover the Rs. 1,000 Crore spent on the runway? I am sure they can well afford it.

Citizens of Delhi are a meek lot. They took no action to challenge the very dubious introduction of the Airport Development Fee, I doubt very much the residents of the affected neighbourhoods will have the guts to challenge this move by the DGCA.

Jai Ho!!!!!!

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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