As many as two international and 11 domestic flights were diverted while dozens faced inordinate delays at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) on Saturday due to congestion in the airspace reportedly caused by VVIP movement.
According to a report by ANI, flights had to be diverted between 5.30 PM and 6.15 PM because of an unusually high frequency of VIP charter planes landing at the Delhi airport. Apart from flights being diverted, most flights were delayed by 45 minutes to one hour.
At 9 PM, the Delhi Airport’s website reported that as many as 90 domestic flights that were scheduled to arrive had been delayed or diverted. The diversion or delay was caused reportedly by VVIP movement.
Airlines such as Jet Airways and SpiceJet took to Twitter to inform passengers about the impact of the VIP movement on the flight movement for the evening.
Speaking to Janta Ka Reporter, an exasperated IGI official said that the the VIP in question was a ‘shehenshah’ of the country.
Wishing not to be named, the official said, “I don’t want to comment but all I can say is that the VVIP in question today was a shehenshah (Emperor) of the country.”
Incidentally, the timing of the flights being diverted coincided with the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s from Himachal Pradesh after addressing election rallies. PM Modi finished his his last election rally in Raitt district of Himachal Pradesh on Saturday at around 4.30 PM before heading home.
Modi vs previous PMs
Diverting flights or delaying them during the VIP movement is nothing new. Aviation experts say that such delays or diversion happen when the PM is using the airport to leave or arrive back in the capital.
A pilot that Janta Ka Reporter spoke to said, that while flights were affected during the prime minister’s movement even in the past, there ‘wouldn’t be a curfew in the airspace’ as was the case on Sunday.
He said, “What people witnessed on Saturday was a curfew because of VVIP movement. Most flights were delayed by 45 to 60 minutes. Air traffic flow once stopped has Domino effect making the congestion last for hours since same aircrafts are also used in departure. One Delhi Airport closure affects flight movement across India as this has adverse impact on their onward journey while also causing delays to other flights. My heart goes out to passengers who miss connecting flights with no reimbursements.”
The last time such disruptions were experiences was in February and March when PM Modi extensively travelled across Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Another pilot said that the ‘unnecessary traffic congestion and diversion is also a potential safety hazard’ since it increases pilots’ workload and forces the airline to start operating on razor thin fuel safety margin while diverting.
“Two flights that were diverted on Saturday must have been after learning that the pilots couldn’t keep their planes air-borne any longer due to razor thin fuel. This poses serious risk to passengers’ safety. And we are not including the cost implications both in terms of loss of revenue for airlines and passengers. This is all because of our apathy towards the VIP culture.”
He said that the fuel planning catered for sufficient safety margin for delays that are technical or weather related. “On exhausting this margin, the aircraft is forced to divert. On its diversion flight, it has zero fuel margin left in the event of a real weather problem. The weather can be forecast and therefore we take that into consideration while planning our fuel. But even the planned VIP movement is never told to pilots thereby making it impossible for us to plan our fuel,” the pilot, who wished not to be identified, said.
Experts say that aside from adverse weather conditions, such delays only take place when either the PM is using the airport or one expects a movement by any head of state. However, the delays at the airport during Manmohan Singh’s term as prime minister wouldn’t last this long.
Sources in the BJP say that PM Modi faces more threats to his safety and both the airport and the airspace have to be sanitised at least half an hour before his flight is to land. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval is reported to have been instrumental in implementing the new security measures at the airport for PM Modi’s movement.
Since PM Modi will have a pressing election schedule from now until 18 December, when assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat will conclude, air passengers in Delhi will have to brace themselves for more frequent disruptions and delays. This will be a double whammy for hapless passengers since this is also the time when frequent delays take place due to bad weather condition.