Dense fog has enveloped Delhi and surrounding regions over the past few days, disrupting air and rail traffic and plunging temperatures across North India. As visibility dropped to zero meters in some places, hundreds of flights have been delayed or diverted from Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport since Sunday.
Over 100 Flights Affected Daily
As per airport officials, on Sunday over 500 flights were delayed with over 100 of them running late by up to 6 hours. Additionally, 13 flights had to be diverted to nearby airports. On Monday, low visibility procedures were implemented, reducing airport capacity by half and causing further delays and diversions.
Over 100 flights have been delayed every day since due to poor visibility. Major airlines like IndiGo and Air India have had to cancel several flights. Air Vistara said nearly 90% of their flights were impacted and SpiceJet reported over 75 cancellations across their network on Tuesday alone.
Runway Closures Limit Airport Operations
The dense fog has forced the airport to shut down one of its runways – runway 09/27. This secondary runway handles around a third of flight operations. With visibility frequently falling below 125 meters, flight activity is currently limited to the primary runway which can handle only around 35 flight movements per hour.
The airport has also been unable to use its CAT IIIB system that allows landings in visibility as low as 50 meters. As per the Ministry of Civil Aviation, there have been issues with the instrumentation on certain stretch zones. With repair work still pending, runway visibility has been reduced to only 350-400m despite CAT IIIB capability.
Long Delays Leave Passengers Stranded
The flight disruptions have caused immense inconvenience to passengers who have had to face long waits at the airport. Thousands were left stranded overnight as flights got rescheduled to the next day. Flyers complained about the lack of amenities and rest areas at Terminal 3.
Many also said airlines failed to provide adequate updates or meal vouchers during extended delays. Pictures emerged showing exhausted passengers sleeping on the floors of the terminals. Scindia, the Civil Aviation Minister, urged airlines to keep flyers informed and provide them basic resources during such situations.
Forecast Warns Disruptions to Persist
According to weather experts, foggy conditions are expected to continue over North India for 2-3 more days. IMD Director General Mrityunjay Mahapatra said a long period of cold days and icy winds along with high moisture near the surface had led to a rapid increase in fog intensity since January 7th.
The persisting cold wave means ideal conditions exist for dense to very dense fog formation during early morning hours. Biting cold has tightened its grip over Delhi and neighboring states, with minimum temperatures hovering between 3-7 degrees Celsius currently. Tourist hotspots like Manali witnessed sub-zero temperatures close to -7 degrees Celsius.
Prolonged disruption is expected at Delhi airport over the next few days till the fog begins to abate. Airport officials have said that flight operations may continue to remain erratic and passengers must stay updated through airline websites or apps.
New Guidelines Announced for Cancellations & Delays
With no signs of improvement in the weather for now, Scindia held an emergency meeting on Tuesday with airport and airline authorities to tackle the crisis-like situation. The outcome was a series of new guidelines aimed at reducing passenger woes during such events.
Airlines must now adhere to set compensation rules in case of flight cancellations or delays exceeding certain thresholds:
|2+ hours for flights < 1500 km
|3+ hours for flights > 1500 km
|Refund of full booking amount
Additionally, airlines have been directed to refund full flight cost without any cancellation fee if passengers wish to reschedule due to delays exceeding 12 hours from original departure time.
Information Disclosure & Amenities
- Airlines must send flight status updates to registered passengers at least once in 30 minutes
- Help desks and support staff must be available for flyers at airports
- Contact details for grievance redressal should be displayed prominently
- Food and refreshments must be ensured for all affected passengers
Strict action has also been warned if airlines fail to furnish timely information on cancellations and delays. Using CAT IIIB capability as an excuse during dense fog conditions could invite fines as well.
Long-Term Upgrades at Delhi Airport
While fog incidents are an annual winter affair in North India, rarely have they caused such magnitude of disruption as witnessed this year at Delhi airport. As per the Ministry of Civil Aviation, there is urgent need to upgrade airport infrastructure to global standards so it can operate 24×7 irrespective of visibility conditions.
The key initiatives being undertaken are:
- New Landing System: Installation of CAT IIIC system that facilitates auto-landing in visibility as low as 100m. Expected by mid-2024.
- Refurbished Runways: Repair and upgrades ongoing for runway 09/27 instrumentation. To be completed by mid-2025. Fourth runway to be upgraded to CAT IIIB by 2026.
- Fog Safety Procedures: Special emergency crew to guide flights during zero visibility. More night parking stands to reduce air traffic congestion.
These measures once implemented in the next 1-2 years shall drastically cut down disruptions and drive Delhi airport towards 24-hour operations. Scindia expressed confidence the current crisis would also nudge airports across India to spruce up infrastructure, paving way for growth of India’s flourishing aviation sector.
The Fog Menace
While dense fog brings operations to a halt every few years at major airports in North India, rarely has it smothered aviation activity across Delhi NCR on such a scale. Visibility has literally dropped to zero meters this year – a testament to increasing frequency of extreme weather events across India.
Changing climate patterns, increased pollution and urban heat islands have made the National Capital more vulnerable than ever to the fog menace. As per environmental experts, temperatures during early winter have been unusually warm, abruptly plummeting later on to trigger dense radiation fog episodes. A lasting solution lies in tackling these underlying factors that have enhanced fog intensity in Delhi specifically.
Till then, the only option is tactical infrastructure improvements at airports along with preparedness by passengers to face delays and cancellations. Flights in and out of the National Capital shall remain severely constricted as dense fog keeps swirling day and night.
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