Expect flight delays as winter schedule kicks in

The issue of fog and low visibility primarily impacts airports in northern India and Bengaluru.

Small aircraft are not banned at Delhi airport, but the flight timings are being changed due to low visibility conditions in winter.

ATR-72s and Bombardier Q-400 aircraft of Alliance Air, IndiGo, and SpiceJet are not certified to operate in extremely low visibility conditions.

“We had a meeting with the India meteorological department. The issue of fog and low visibility primarily impacts airports in northern India and Bengaluru. To avoid passenger inconvenience, flight schedules will be amended. There is no ban,” said a senior official at the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

Airlines operate turboprop aircraft like ATR-72s or Q-400s from Delhi to Jodhpur, Shimla, and Kullu, among others. A source said the timings of such flights would be changed between 10 am and 9 pm. Currently, around 70 flights per day are operated by turboprop aircraft in Delhi.

The schedule change will, however, cause delays, the source said. “Almost all of the slots have been assigned to airlines and flights would have to be squeezed into those hours. This would delay the aircraft’s arrival and departures,” he said.

Separately, the civil aviation ministry is working to decongest a dozen smaller airports by asking the airlines to reschedule their flights. The decision was taken following complaints of overcrowding at the Jodhpur airport.

The smaller airports have infrastructure constraints, such as limited number of parking bays, inadequate terminal capacity, or have watch hour restrictions like limited hours of operation.  Bunching flights or delays are resulting in overcrowding of terminals and congestion at these smaller airports. The issue attracted greater attention due to ongoing Covid-19 protocols, forcing the ministry to action.

Now, air traffic movements have been checked hour-wise. It is suggested that some peak hour movements be shifted to non-peak hours at these smaller airports. A source said airlines may not get the desired time slots in the summer schedule at these busy airports as authorities tighten their allocation policies.

Flight approvals are granted after checking the runway and passenger handling capacity at the terminals. But there is a mismatch in some cases. For instance, in Bagdogra, there are four parking bays but the terminal is inadequate to cater to the increase in flights that airlines introduced in the winter schedule. The runway, too, is also being upgraded, reducing the hours of operations.

The decongestion exercise, according to the airlines, will have an impact on their schedules. Each aircraft flies on a select number of routes daily and changing timings would impact aircraft rotations across the network. An executive said that in airports like Goa there is no room to make any changes in the schedule as slots have been given out.

“It is unfair to blame airports alone for the congestion. We can understand that flights would occasionally get delayed because of weather or technical reasons, but airlines need to maintain the sanctity of the schedule,” an airport director said.

The Airports Authority of India did not respond to an email query on the issue.

“Vistara has shifted a few flights operating in the busy or peak time slots to reduce overcrowding. However, rescheduling flights can be complicated, considering the limited aircraft available,” said a Vistara spokesperson.

A source said IndiGo, too, had started rescheduling its flights in line with the government directive. Passengers are being informed of the change, he said.

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