“Due to low visibility 37 flights have been diverted to places including Jaipur, Amritsar, and Lucknow, among other cities,” said a spokesperson of the Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL), which operates the Delhi airport and is owned by GMR Infra.
Delhi is India’s busiest airport and handles around 1,400 aircraft per day. The cost of diverting an aircraft impacts finances and operations of an airline and points to the impact the air pollution crisis can have on the economy. While diverting an aircraft burns fuel, duty hours of pilots also get extended, posing operational and cash burn issues for firms. Normally, airlines prepare for operations in low-visibility conditions by scheduling capable aircraft and crews in such conditions.
This time, however, the unusual timing of such conditions caught them off guard.
“We train a certain number of pilots for operating in low-visibility conditions. From first week of December, we usually pair them in aircraft operating out of north Indian airports in early morning hours. However, such conditions in the first week of November was not accounted for,” an Air India official said.
Sanjiv Kapoor, chief commercial officer, Vistara, said, “Lots of disruptions today (Sunday) across airlines due to low visibility at the Delhi airport, unprecedented for this time of the year. It is not fog season yet.” Vistara was forced to cancel four flights till 8 pm.
A senior official of the Indian Meteorology Department termed the event as unusual, blaming pollutants for deterring rain.
“The particulate matter in the air is obstructing proper rainfall,” the IMD official said. “The light rain worsened the situation by increasing humidity and helping the pollutants getting more concentrated.”
The unprecedented change in weather pattern has forced airlines to rethink crew scheduling. Sources said IndiGo and Air India have decided to put pilots trained in low-visibility operations in early morning flights for the next two days.
What it means is that airlines have to train a larger pool of pilots for low-visibility operations and incur an additional cost — almost Rs 25 lakh per pilot.