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Delayed Flights: War of Words over Performance of Civil Aviation Ministry

Delayed Flights: War of Words over Performance of Civil Aviation Ministry

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Jan 17: A war of words broke out between the union civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia and his erstwhile party leader Shashi Tharoor over making critical observations on the performance of the aviation ministry in battling against the prevailing adverse weather conditions in Delhi and some other parts of north India.

Mr Scindia, who quit the Congress four years ago to join the BJP, on Wednesday hit back Mr Tharoor branding him an

“arm-chair critic” after the latter criticised the Centre’s handling of the ongoing flight delay crisis caused due to fog in the national capital, describing it as a “Narendra Modi Government-made disaster.” Scindia also claimed Tharoor was “lost in his esoteric world of thesaurus” and for him “data mining of selective press articles” from the internet qualified as “research.” “Here are some actual facts for arm-chair critic Shashi Tharoor and the Cong IT Cell that might help tackle their lack of depth in understanding of technical sectors like civil aviation,” Mr Scindia said in a post on X.

Tharoor had raised the issue of absence of CAT-IIIB compliant runways at the IGI Airport, which were effective for landing in zero-visibility conditions. In response, Scindia said since the runway maintenance work taken up before the onset of the fog season was delayed, it led to a delay in the commissioning of the CAT-IIIB runway. “The revamped RWY is getting operational this week,” Scindia said in a post on X.

The minister’s point-by-point rebuttal came after Tharoor alleged in a series of six posts on X that the “chaos” at the Delhi airport was a result of the “neglect and incompetence” of the aviation ministry.

“Across the world, major international airports have multiple CAT III-C runways, but India does not even have one, despite its capital city’s woeful fog & smog issues in winter. Why not?” the Congress leader questioned. The ministry has also not made sure trained pilots are deployed during winter months who can land in lower visibility, he claimed.

Sharing news reports, Tharoor said Delhi’s IGI Airport got a brand-new CAT III-B (Category III)-compliant runway, an advanced landing system that allows pilots to land even when there is fog or the visibility is as low as 50 metres, in 2008 at a cost of Rs 1,000 crore.

“In total, Delhi has four runways, two of which are CAT III-B compliant. In all its wisdom, the Modi government began maintenance work on one of the two CAT III-B runways in September 2023, fully aware that it would not be ready for the winter! “Even worse, a crane from some other construction work was blocking operation of CAT III-B on one runway, even after repairs were complete. Delhi Airport flagged this over 10 days ago, on January 5, but no action was taken,” he said. “…Further, it did not even ensure that pilots planning to fly to Delhi during fog conditions were CAT III-B trained. Therefore, multiple flights were diverted to cities like Jaipur and Ahmedabad,” he added.

The aviation minister then responded in an equal number of posts, even as he called Tharoor an “arm-chair critic.”  “Runway maintenance work is a critical safety element for aviation operations, and any compromise with runway conditions directly jeopardizes passenger safety. As a result, the maintenance was taken on top priority to be completed by 15th December before the onset of the fog season. However, due to pollution incidents and enforcement of GRAP-IV in Delhi, the re-carpeting got delayed, resulting in a delay of one month in its commissioning. The revamped RWY is getting operational this week,” the aviation minister claimed.

He said the crane was being used for the construction of another critical infrastructure project – the Dwarka Expressway. However, in view of its impact on the runway, it has now been decided that the crane operation should be allowed only on non-fog days, he said. Scindia also said the Opposition leader’s claim of inadequately trained pilots was “baseless.”

“…As compared to only 2416 CAT II/CAT III trained pilots in 2014, today we have 6191 CAT II/CAT III trained pilots which is a jump of 2.5 times in the last 9 years. Further, in preparation for the fog season of 2023-24, due to our efforts, the number of CAT II/CAT III trained pilots have grown by 16% in the last three months alone from 5332 to 6191.

“Also, the DGCA mandates airlines to deploy CAT IIIB compliant aircraft only with qualified crew during the winter season. Any violations are strictly dealt with by the regulator, DGCA. For instance, show-cause notices were issued to Spicejet and Air India,” he said.

In the last week, flight delays have been rampant across India due to dense fog across North India and congestion at the Mumbai airport. Many celebrities and several other social media users have also reported mistreatment by airline staff. A harried flier was arrested for assaulting a co-pilot of a Delhi – Goa flight after an inordinate delay in taking off even after fog cleared.

 

 

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