Arun Katiyar is a media expert with over two decades of professional experience. He has worked as Journalist and editor with the India Today Group, one of the more respected media houses in India.
Last Saturday Arun Katiyar penned an opinion article titled A clear view in fog which appeared in the Saturday edition of Daily News and Analysis or DNA as it is better known.
This article on the problems faced by passengers at the Bengaluru International Airport during this fog season, clears demonstrates why aviation journalism requires a good understanding of the field. Mr. Katiyar is a well respected person and rightfully so. However the article shows he knows very little about how airports, airlines and air traffic control functions.
It is no secret that the domestic departure area at the airport is a weak point in an otherwise good airport. Based on typical Swiss efficiency the departure lounge provides enough space for a “just in time” operational capacity. Introduce a hiccup like bad weather and passengers can quickly overwhelm the area like sardines in a can.
In his article Mr. Katiyar paints a picture that the airport operator BIAL is forcing passengers to board the aircraft in order to keep the departure hall de-congested.
What BIAL does not tell you is this: you are going to be herded into the aircraft regardless of the fact that the aircraft is not going to take off because of the fog. You may have to sit for hours, folded like an origami passenger in the narrow seats of low cost airlines, perhaps ready to be struck by deep vein thrombosis, until the fog lifts.
BIAL knows that the flights cannot take off and yet you get sent into the aircraft. This is because BIAL does not have the space to hold passengers in its building. So, rather than crowd the building, put pressure on the coffee shops and make passengers suffer toilets that just cannot be cleaned fast enough, it sends the passengers into the aircrafts. Now, you can sit strapped into your seat and ask for tiny cups of reluctantly served water (the sandwiches on low cost airlines not only being hugely expensive, but terrible in taste as well).
Mr. Katiyar is blissfully unaware that it is the airlines that decide when to board their aircraft, not the airport operator.
Loading passengers in to an aircraft requires ground support equipment like ground power units which cost money to rent and run. Something no airline is willing to waste in these tough economic times.
At Bangalore, while the onset of fog is fairly predictable, the duration of the fog is anything but. Once the sun shines the fog can burn away very quickly and visibility will reach minimum operating conditions before an airline can load up its aircraft. Also once minimum operating conditions are reached, the floodgates of both arriving and departing aircraft open, and airlines are keen to be ahead in the taxi queue so that they can commence their early morning flights, often the first of the day, as soon as possible, to minimise nationwide systemic operational impact. In order to get in to the departure queue, a flight has to declare to the ATC it is fully loaded and ready to push back before it gets a slot in the taxi queue.
Mr. Katiyar’s opinions seem to have been formed in a fog of ignorance. The clear target of Mr. Katiyar’s ire should have been the airline he was travelling on and his decision to take an early morning flight knowing fully well the potential risks of a fog delay.
Mr. Katiyar proposes his “noble idea” of demolishing the large shopping area in the departure hall. A far more noble idea would be to pressure the airport operators to speed up the construction of the second terminal to better capture market share as the Indian airline market recovers, and to force the Airports Authority of India to repair their faulty installation of the ILS glideslope on the runways at Bangalore which ensures that the runways cannot be upgraded to a Cat II level ILS which will help in times of low visibility like fog.
Hope the view is clearer now Mr. Katiyar.