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Murky politics swirls around DGCA’s low visibility take-off decision at Delhi

Two weeks ago, India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) issued a circular changed the low visibility take-off (LVTO) minima for Category C aircraft (Airbus A320 family, Boeing 737 family) to 150 metres for all airlines from the New Delhi IGI airport. While the DGCA claims this move would not affect air safety, the circular has sparked an intense debate in aviation circles that this move has been done to benefit one particular domestic airline who is rumoured to be close to the powers that are.

New Delhi’s IGI airport has Cat-IIIB ILS capable runways which permit landings in visibility as low as 75 metres, however, the LVTO minima was 200 meters for most airlines with the exception of three airlines, all of which operate the Airbus A320 family aircraft, Air India, IndiGo and Kingfisher, and who have spent millions of rupees on pilot training and aircraft equipment like ParaVisual Indicator (PVI) and Heads-up displays (HUDs) which enabled them to operate with LVTO of only 125 meters under the European norms of JAR-OPS 1. Now in one fell swoop all that additional investment has been laid waste.

The Boeing 737s that fly in India are not certified by the US Federal Aviation Administration for such low take-off minima.

As per the grapevine, on January 14th, a day of particularly bad fog, the passengers of the “well connected” private airline, which incidentally operates an all Boeing 737 fleet, were extremely upset when they saw aircraft of the three 125 meter LVTO airlines taxiing out to take-off, while their aircraft remained stranded due to its higher take-off visibility requirements. A major scuffle ensued between the agitated passengers and the crew.

This airline had applied to the DGCA for approval for it to operate with the 125 meter LVTO minima but the application was denied. It appears that wheels within wheels have been turned and over the weekend, and the DGCA released a circular within one one working day, that essentially overturned the ten year old 80 page Operations Circular No. 6 of 1999.

DGCA Operations Circular No 6 1999 Aerodrome Minima

On what basis the LVTO minima has been made 150 meters for all airlines is unknown. An official, who wishes to remain anonymous, of a private airline that operates an all Boeing fleet informed Bangalore Aviation that prior to the January 17 circular they were operating well above the 150 metre minima since their aircraft and/or pilots were not qualified. Now they are operating at 150 metre minima thanks to the drastic move of DGCA.

This created untold chaos at Delhi airport for the week of January 17th, since Air India, IndiGo, and Kingfisher were forced to remain on the ground when they could have operated their flights.

Numerous calls and an e-mail to the Director General Mr. Nasim Zaidi have not been answered. As per an article titled DGCA modifies visibility rules, airlines cry foul in the DNA newspaper Mr. Nasim Zaidi said

“Our new circular is based on studies of international aviation practices, safety assessment and we had consulted the airlines in a meeting held on January 12. No where in the world is the LVTO below 150 metres,”

Mr. Zaidi seems to have missed on on the fact that most major European airports have LVTO limits as low as 75 metres as prescribed in JAR-OPS 1. In case of London Heathrow airport the LVTO minimum is decided by the airline dependent on the certified capabilities of the aircraft and pilot in its command.

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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