Fog and the accompanying low visibility is the bane of air travel across the world, and especially during the peak winter season in north India.
The higher the category, the lower are the minima for visibility. So for a foggy Delhi, a Cat-IIIB is most suited. However it is an integrated system. i.e. to be able to land in just 50m visibility, the runway instrument landing system (ILS) infrastructure AND the aircraft AND the pilot, all three have to be Cat-IIIB capable and certified. Maintaining the highest Cat-IIIB certification of a pilot requires regular scheduled checks, which is an expensive affair for any airline.
Passengers accrue the benefits from the fact that an airline with a Cat-IIIB pilot is able to operate in poorer visibility at a Cat-IIIB equipped airport like New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International, while an airline with a Cat-IIIA pilot may be forced to divert to an alternate airport causing delays.
Earlier today, the minister for civil aviation Mr. Vayalar Ravi provided information to parliamentarians about the availability of Instrument Landing System (ILS) Cat-II, Cat-IIIA, and Cat-IIIB certified pilots in the employ of various airlines in India as of December 31, 2010.
For their international services all three wide-body aircraft (Airbus A310 & A330, Boeing 747 & 777) operators, Air India (NACIL-A), Jet Airways, and Kingfisher Airlines have their pilots Cat-IIIB certified. Not surprising since these aircraft are Cat-IIIB capable.
On the domestic side, only the A320 operators Air India (NACIL-I), GoAir, IndiGo, and Kingfisher have most of their pilots Cat-IIIB certified. Boeing 737 operators Jet Airways, JetLite, and SpiceJet have their pilots certified to the lower Cat-IIIA standard (175 metres runway visibility).
Again, not surprising since the Airbus A320/A319/A321 comes with Cat-IIIB capability built-in, while the Boeing 737 requires additional optional equipment to make it Cat-IIIB capable, something most airlines do not order.
The exception is Air India Express which for some inexplicable reason has Cat-IIIB capable Boeing 737 aircraft but not the pilots.
What is also surprising is that cargo operator Blue Dart only has Cat-II (300 metres visibility) certified pilots. Compare this to global cargo leader FedEx Express which has fitted an enhanced flight vision system based on military technology to its aircraft to help its pilots land in the worst of visibilities to keep the cargo moving. After all FedEx’s motto is “The World On Time”.