Only 30 personnel out of 150 at Delhi airport are fully trained to maintain equipment, manage landings
The lack of adequately trained people to manage landings and take offs may be an important reason for delays and congestion in airports across India—something that was initially attributed to an increase in air traffic because of a rise in the number of airlines operating in the country.
The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has, in a reply to a Right to Information (RTI) plea filed by an employee, Anoop Kumar Gupta, posted with its Communication, Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) wing, admitted that many technicians who maintain complex landing and communication equipment at the air traffic control (ATC) towers had not been trained on the new generation equipment.
These technicians are attached to the CNS wing of AAI and are required to attend to malfunctioning landing system and radars.
The Authority has admitted that it was unable to meet the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) standards framed in 1994, which mandate that personnel entrusted with maintenance “should undergo periodical on-the-job checks at least once a year and refresher course at least once in three years.” The AAI has admitted that the only training that all CNS employees have undergone was the “Ab-initio training after recruitment where principles of operation of all CNS equipment are covered.”
People familiar with the developments in the CNS department spoke to Mint on condition of anonymity, saying less than half the staff was properly trained. The CNS wing is entrusted with the maintenance of equipment such as the Instrument Landing System, which provides precise guidance to an aircraft approaching a runway, radars and VHF Omni Range, which helps planes flying at the same altitude maintain lateral distance.
According to a CNS staffer who did not wish to be identified, of the 150 people in the CNS department at the Delhi airport, only 30 have received specialized training. The ATC has been able to tide over this as each piece of equipment has a back-up, he said.
According to another CNS staffer who also did not wish to be identified, the lack of trained personnel also contributes to delays in landings.
When visibility is particularly poor, the ATC in Delhi uses a higher grade of Instrument Landing System known as CAT III B. This guides the pilot up to the point where the plane halts after touchdown. When this system fails as there is no back-up fro CAT III-B, the ATC is forced to downgrade to CAT I landing system. In such cases, pilots may be forced to hover until they can see the centre line clearly. “This happens all the time in winters,” said a technician. So far, the Delhi airport is the only CAT IIIB-compliant airport across the region, including South East Asia and West Asia, he said.
Friction between CNS technicians and ATC staff came to a head in June 2006, when a security lapse was blamed on CNS and led to a suspension of two staffers.
An Air Force plane carrying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lost contact with ATC as it was preparing to descend at the Delhi airport. As the plane prepared to land, the pilot switched to the special frequency on which he could communicate with the ATC.
When the operator at the tower was unable to maintain contact on the special frequency, the pilot was forced to switch to the general frequency enabling other aircraft in the vicinity to pick up the messages from the PM’s aircraft.
An inquiry was ordered and two officers with the CNS wing were suspended. CNS staffers say that when they checked the VHF set later it was found to be functioning normally.
Mint contacted AAI by email as well as by telephone, but the organization’s spokesperson did not comment on the security lapse or the lack of trained personnel. A spokesperson for the civil aviation ministry said the subject was under the purview of AAI and that the ministry would not wish to comment on the issue.
Sept. 1: Handling of air traffic control (ATC) responsibilities by trainee controllers (under the supervision of instructors) was responsible for some of the 12 incidents of air proximity of aircraft in the Indian skies from January to June this year, the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has admitted.
Of the 12 incidents of air proximity of aircraft from January to June this year, as many as five occurred in the Chennai Flight Information Region (FIR) while three occurred in the Delhi FIR.
There were as many as four air proximity cases in the country in May alone this year, DGCA figures show.
Aircraft proximity is defined by the DGCA as "a situation in which, in the opinion of a pilot or air traffic services personnel, the distance between aircraft as well as their respective positions and speed have been such that the safety of the aircraft involved may have been compromised".
In response to an RTI application filed, the DGCA stated (on the causes of the air proximity), "During on-job training, some of the airprox (codeword for air proximity) occurred when traffic was handled by a trainee controller under the supervision of the instructor."
Another startling cause listed was manpower shortage in the DGCA and Airports Authority of India (AAI).
The air traffic control function comes under the purview of the state-owned AAI while the DGCA is the regulator in the aviation sector.
The AAI is known to suffer from a shortfall of air traffic controllers which it is currently addressing.
Yet another cause given was increase in air traffic "leading to stress and fatigue".
The first incident of air proximity in the Indian skies occurred in the Chennai FIR between a Jet Airways and Kingfisher airlines aircraft on January 12 this year. The second occurred in the Kolkata FIR between a Blue Dart (cargo) aircraft and an Air India aircraft on January 25. The third occurred in the Chennai FIR between aircraft belonging to Jet Airways and Indigo airlines on January 31.
The fourth incident again occurred in the Chennai FIR on February 29 between an Indian Airlines (Air India domestic) and an Indigo airlines aircraft.
The fifth incident occurred between two aircraft of Kingfisher Airlines itself in the Mumbai FIR on March 13.
The sixth incident involved a foreign airline.
The air proximity took place between a Gulf Air aircraft and an Air India Express aircraft in the Chennai FIR on April 10.
The seventh incident took place between in the Delhi FIR on April 12 and involved an Air Deccan aircraft.
Then in May this year, there were four more incidents of air proximity on May 6 (Chennai FIR), May 16 (Delhi FIR), May 28 (Pune ATC) and May 29 (Kolkata FIR).
The last incident of the first half of this year took place on June 29 in the Delhi FIR between a Kingfisher Airlines and a Jetlite aircraft.
Other reasons for the causes of the air proximity cases (besides the ones already listed above) included human error, confusing call sign of the aircraft, instrument system failure and non-adherence to ATC instructions.
Remedial actions carried out by the DGCA included proficiency checks on air traffic control officers and modernisation of ATC services "to include conflict warning in the system to assist ATCOs".