Airport director says that Indian Air Force not heeding requests for upgrading systems
SRINAGAR: On Saturday, air traffic at Srinagar airport was resumed after remaining suspended for two days due to “poor visibility and snowfall”. The poor visibility is not actually so poor, as per advanced aviation standards, but because the airport has an archaic visibility system in place that even moderate snowfall and rain halts its operations.
The Delhi airport, which has the most efficient instrument landing system in India, operates even at 50 meters of visibility, but Srinagar airport needs at least 1,000 meters for an aircraft to land. According to Srinagar airport director Akash Deep Mathur, air traffic can only operate when there is at least 1,000 meters of visibility, which is an improvement from the 1,300 meters required till a few years ago.
“That is why aircraft cannot operate. It will remain like this until the system that allows aircraft to operate at lesser visibility is installed here,” Mathur told Kashmir Reader.
Since the beginning of this year, it was for the fifth time that air traffic was suspended at Srinagar airport. This is despite the airport having been granted international status 13 years ago. After snowfall stopped on Thursday, air traffic should have operated on Friday if the snowfall indeed was responsible for suspension of air traffic. However, it took two days for the airport authorities to resume operations. The delay caused losses of more than Rs 5 crore to travel operators, and also exorbitant fare hikes which prevented tourists from visiting the snow-covered Valley and students in Kashmir to miss their exams at centres outside.
Srinagar airport lacks advanced facilities because of the multiple administrative powers exercised over the airport, which occupies a small corner of a massive IAF air base and remains under IAF (Indian Air Force) control. The airport land has actually been leased out to the Airports Authority of India (AAI) by the IAF. The AAI also controls the apron area where aircraft are parked. The airspace and runway control is with the IAF. The state government has the least say in getting the facilities upgraded. An airport advisory committee (AAC) headed by the Member of Parliament from Srinagar, currently Farooq Abdullah, presides over meetings that are well attended but its recommendations fall on deaf ears.
An officer privy to the airport administration issues told Kashmir Reader that the AAI and the state government are both subservient to the IAF, which has led to delay in upgrading of the airport. He cited as instance the last AAC meeting which was presided over by Farooq Abdullah, during which the IAF refused to give a stretch of land to the Srinagar airport authority despite being asked for it a number of times in the past two years.
Mathur said that the installation of the latest visibility system at the airport is in the hands of the IAF, and there is little chance of it being installed in the coming years.
“We have asked for it many times, but it was not given. Now the IAF says that they have their own proposal for the airport, which will take many years to reach fruition,” the airport director said.