Each year, Oct 20th is celebrated as International Air Traffic Controllers Day.
Surprised? You should be. They are unsung heroes who work behind the scenes to give you a seamless air-travel experience.
‘Air Traffic Controller’ is arguably one of the most stressful jobs in all of aviation. In India, their duties & responsibilities often stretch to either extremes, caught between two worlds: ‘official’ (AAI) & private (GVK, GMR, etc).
Sharing with you, my comments on a short video on CSIA Mumbai airport shared by former South Mumbai MP Milind Deora to commemorate the International Air Traffic Controllers Day. Every day in aviation is a celebration of various disciplines coming together with a common purpose. Today, 20th October 2019 is no different.
Here’s the YouTube link to Milind Deora’s tweet:
Here are my comments:
1. Handling 1.4lac pax, 1000 flights, 1400 overflights on a daily basis fm a single runway 24/7/365 is an achievement only India can boast of. In other parts of the world, this would be seen as a potential accident waiting to happen.
2. Celebrating such an achievement glosses over the gross mismanagement at higher levels which led to this situation. Imagine Yamuna Expressway or Mumbai-Pune expressway reduced to single-lane, & aircraft in place of cars n trucks. That’s Mumbai CSIA, serving a population of over 1.84 crore human beings.
3. Obviously, the crushing load is carried on the back of CSIA’s ATC & operational staff, with no help from govt or policy makers. For VVIP movements, airports are closed for all other traffic. Delays (air traffic or otherwise) affect aam aadmi (common man), business travelers, old, sick and the infirm. They don’t count for much, do they?
4. Having a single runway, or cross-runways with an intersection, leaves us with a critical vulnerability. Secondary runway 14/32 @ BOM is way too inefficient. At best, it serves as a temporary relief for main runway maintenance or upkeep. It’s a ‘Stepney’, not what you want to roll on everyday.
5. A SpiceJet B737 scheduled flight that overshot & blocked main runway 09/27 in July 2019 caused over 500 flight disruptions & 200 cancelled flights in one day. The aggregated losses over 4 days would have run into thousands of crores. We did nothing better than punish two pilots. Who is responsible for this mess?
One runway, 1000 flights, 24 hours
6. Sobering thought, isn’t it? Milind Deora’s script acknowledges the laudable grit of ATC officials who must bear “the entire pressure of making the numbers work”. But do spare a thought for the irresponsible who ‘landed’ airport officials & daily air travellers into this situation in the first place.
7. Now, I have flown in many parts of the world & interacted with many ATCs. Nowhere did I find controllers stretched to limits like I did in India. Even in Doha, Qatar (Hamad International Airport with parallel runways), controllers provide ATC service with poise & composure because planners set their eye 50 yrs ahead. We suck at such planning, leaving controllers breathless & politicians beaming with photo-ops.
8. Indian air traffic controllers are so damn good that they cover up for all our shortfalls with typical Indian resilience. They rise to the occasion each time where planners failed spectacularly. Cheers to them. Today & always.
9. Then there are Airports Authority of India (AAI)-controlled aerodromes & their shenanigans. Even as I write today, modern, IFR-capable helicopters on ground & in air, with cruise speed of 140 kn, still wait on 1960s’ slow-moving, fixed-wing Cessna 152s ‘arriving’ at neighbouring Juhu. This leads to humongous cascade delays (superimposed on Special VFR departure separation requirements). Cumulatively, money burns like a cheap beedi. Who does the math? Are helicopters pariahs in India?
So while CSIA Mumbai takes in 1000 flights a day, neighbour AAI-Juhu sets a different, more shambolic example. Just 2.5 miles away from CSIA, there’s total ‘chirag tale andhera‘ (shadow under a bright flame). Ask why.
10. Making promo videos is much cheaper & easier. It gives a false sense of well-being. Ops at Mumbai CSIA Airport is teetering on a fine balance: government apathy versus individual brilliance, private enterprise, technology & very highly proficient operational staff.
Hope that balance remains safe.
Thank you, @milinddeora, for highlighting the unsung heroes. Always glad to help; affected ‘party’ or not.
Wishing you safe miles. Be good & behave yourself as an air traveller. You don’t want to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2019. All rights reserved. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on my Twitter handle @realkaypius. Views are personal.