Flight time buffer for travellers – How fliers to and from Bagdogra will benefit from night-landing

The Telegraph

AVIJIT SINHA

The Bagdogra airport terminal. File picture

Siliguri, July 2: The IAF’s assent to Bagdogra airport to keep the facility running till 10pm would have direct consequences for residents and travellers to Siliguri as well as other parts of north Bengal and Sikkim. Here’s what Metro found out.

Travel time

Air passengers coming to Bagdogra from Gangtok, Darjeeling and Kishanganj in Bihar would be benefited the most because of the night landing.

If a traveller from Gangtok has to board a noon flight, he has to leave Gangtok by 5.30am. After 3.45pm, no flights depart from Bagdogra, so the luxury of taking an evening flight was not available. That will change. Passengers coming down from the hills will be able to opt for late afternoon and evening flights. No need to wake up at 5am at home for a flight that will leave seven hours later.

For Siliguri residents, travel time from the town to Bagdogra is 40 minutes.

Cancellation grief

During monsoon and winter, flights from other places to Bagdogra are often cancelled, not just delayed, if the weather is bad in those cities.

Kavita Sharma, a resident of Sikkim, highlighted this. “We have faced inconveniences while travelling from Delhi and Calcutta to Bagdogra. The flights, because of technical reasons or bad weather in these metros, got delayed first and then they would be cancelled as they would not land in Bagdogra in the evening.”

Chances of this happening would reduce now.

Bagdogra does not have a hangar so a flight here also departs the same day. As the closing time of the airport is 6pm, the last flight generally departs by 3.45pm.

As of now, five airlines, including Air India, operate from Bagdogra

Airport staff

The airport will require more CISF personnel for security, a matter that Alapan Bandopadhyay, the state transport secretary, discussed with airport officials today.

Bandopadhyay held a meeting with K.K. Bhowmik, the airport’s director, officials of the CISF who man the entry and exits of the airport along with senior officers of the Darjeeling district administration and representatives of airline companies.

“As of now, we have around 140 employees of the AAI and the CISF. I will write to my superiors, seeking adequate manpower to work after the extension of hours. The Union civil aviation ministry would then communicate with the Union home ministry for additional CISF personnel,” Bhowmik said.

“It would take a few more weeks before the first flight in the evening lands or take off from Bagdogra.”

The state transport secretary, while speaking on the issue, said to expedite the process of providing additional manpower, the state government will also write to the concerned ministries.

Sources at the airport said owners of shops and restaurants and transporters who run airport services have also started looking for people. “Everybody, right from a restaurant owner to the transporter needs additional people to work in shifts. This is a good scope for local youths as employment opportunities would be created,” a source said.

Flights

In course of the meeting with Bandopadhyay, sources said, the airlines said that they had plans to introduce new flights but no decision had been reached.

“We have learnt that one of the airlines is planning a flight to Kathmandu from Bagdogra, another is interested to start a flight to Ahmedabad via Calcutta from Bagdogra,” an official who attended the meeting said on condition of anonymity. “Also, inquiries have been made by other private airlines that are interested to operate from Bagdogra.”

Night-landing

The airport does not have the instrument landing system (ILS) — the air force plans to instal it soon. In its absence, the IAF, which provides all navigational aid for landing and take-off, will use the Precision Approach Radar (PAR) system.

“Now that the written communication has been made to AAI, it is evident that navigation aid would be provided to them till 10pm,” a highly-placed source in the IAF said today. “Regarding landing at evening hours, the IAF can use its Precision Approach Radar (PAR) technology, which is similar to the ILS.”

“The ILS, which is a sophisticated landing system, would be installed by the IAF in Bagdogra in due time,” the source added.

What is PAR?

Aviation experts said precision approach is a landing process used to operate aircraft where there is no ILS. “The precision approach is a system in which the aircraft is monitored by the air traffic control (ATC) through the radar,” said an official at Calcutta airport.

At a particular height in the sky, the aircraft, approaching to land, is first aligned with the centreline of the runway by verbal communication. “Then for every mile the aircraft is descending, the ATC personnel guide the pilot by informing the altitude and angle of flying till it lands,” he said.

Officials said this system of landing was not in use for commercial aircraft for several decades. “So commercial pilots need special training,” said an official.

Inclement weather

Night landing using the PAR would not be possible in inclement weather, an AAI official had said yesterday. For that, installing the ILS would be necessary. In case of bad weather conditions in Bagdogra, flights may continue to get cancelled.

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