Monday, March 06, 2006


Airport Mess:

I am sure most readers are somewhat familiar with the problems that they face at Airports in India. The long queues at check in counters, inadequate lighting, inadequate and poor quality seating, badly maintained and sometimes non-functional toilets, bad quality PA system that one can’t make out the announcements, generally unclean, inadequate choice of eating places and of course high tariffs (this is an Airport after all!), inadequate boarding gates and cramped and sometimes overloaded boarding busses and many more problems.

Tarmac Mess:

What most flying passengers don’t normally see, but do sometimes, is the chaos on the tarmac. The tarmac is the area on the Airport where the Aircraft comes in to park and disembark arriving passengers and embark departing ones. This is the area where most of the ground operations take place including loading/unloading checked in baggage, line maintenance of the Aircraft by the Airline engineers, re-fuelling and of course loading and unloading passengers. This is also the area where the maximum numbers of Airline employees are moving around. As mentioned above, these people are the engineers, technicians, loaders, flight dispatch officers, ground facilities personnel mostly. Most Indian Airports including the big ones at Mumbai and New Delhi are not equipped to handle the volume of traffic that has been operating into these Airports since recent times.

ATC Mess:

With the present number of operators apparently eight new operators in India coming in this year, all operating out of the limited number of “operational” Airports in India will lead to further chaos. Another area that passengers don’t get to see is the antiquated Air Traffic Control system. Most ATC’s as they are called rely on antiquated radar systems and some of them, including Mumbai (Scary isn’t it?) have very poor primary radio.

In layman’s terms, the primary and secondary surveillance radars (SSR) are the best ways to see Aircraft flying around and know their exact positions, their altitude (the height at which they are flying) and their air speed. All this comes up on the SSR. Horrific news is that most airports including Bangalore don’t have such facilities! In other words, ATC’s sometimes have an idea as to where you are and sometimes don’t. As for communication, your truly was flying an F-27 twin turboprop on a ferry flight to Bangalore from Muscat and even at close range flying over Mumbai, we could not communicate with them. Another Airline was “relaying messages” back and forth and nearly all Airlines were doing the same.

CNN-IBN did an expose’ on their channel about this problem but in some cases I found the reporting to be a bit alarmist. However, sometimes I think we need alarmist reports in the media for people in this Country to wake up and smell the coffee. At least now it seems the Government is trying to improve facilities but to me this seems like “too little, too late” and not fast enough. Unless the improvements are done on a war footing, things are only going to get worse. The other area for expanding facilities is by building new Airports around the country. This is a huge country where Air Services is vital but largely ignored in terms of development.

We need lot’s more Airports to cover all of the regions. The Government should not look at immediate returns but invest on creating infrastructure for the future. If they can’t do it, the private sector must be allowed to come in and invest like it has been done in Cochin.

Airlines Mess:

As for the Airlines, they have more problems and these don’t always mean the lack of facilities at the various Airports. They have this too and other problems facing them and the situation are getting no better. Some of their problems include skyrocketing fuel prices, inadequate supply of trained technical, managerial and pilots, the last being acute and getting worse. Not to mention that lease rates for Aircraft have gone up tremendously, only because of the increased demand for Aircraft by growing countries such as India.

To Clear the Mess:

What needs to be done to solve the problems facing this Industry and the people who use it? It is not that there isn’t enough money, because there is enough and more as a result of all the taxes and accruals coming out of this Industry. What we need is just this: A will to make things happen. A will to improve things and a resolve to make this Country a leading player in the World of Aviation.

Do we have such a will? It’s a Million Dollar (or should I say Rupee) question and one that cannot be answered easily what with a coalition Government at the centre and a party that I attribute to being the only survivor of the Dinosaur era, being a part of the ruling coalition, albeit from the “outside”. This party is well known for it's position on modernization of Airports (or anything else for that matter) and also known for saying that air travel is for the rich man and hence no investment must be made for their convenience!

We, the People need a kick in the backside for electing a non progressive bunch of persons who want to take India back to the Ice age and some of them who get elected on caste lines to ascend the steps of the Parliament and making a mockery of our democracy.


Athul K S said...

hi all,
i think why people dont get to hear or see the conditions of ATC is cos , such areas r restricted usualy , and things like these rnt much seen by people other than the people concerned .

so as captain has righty said the combined effort of all the people in this industry can bring these problems to the notice of the people responsible for making it happen ( ministry ) , who otherwise will never know the situation .

If i have not read this, i might have never come to know the situation of indian ATC , all i have seen is the ATC shown in movies which ofcourse r realy great as per the movies .

so i hope , things will get better and make things happen to fly safer .

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

There is also a bit of a mistrust between pilots and ATC sometimes and egos clash as well. This problem has been addressed in the West by having pilots visit the ATC regularly to see how things are, type of equipment ATC handles and the pressure cooker situation that ATC officers work under. At the same time, ATC officers are invited to fly general aviation Aircraft with their pilots so that they can understand the situations that a pilot has to handle and the ATC officer will get a three dimension picture of what it feels like from the cockpit. On the ATC radar airplanes just appear like dots with a few numbers alongside. These numbers show the Aircraft's identity, airspeed and direction. There is a "transponder" on the aircraft with an ATC assigned frequency. That unit "talks" to the ATC radar unit and hence the details of the aircraft speed, altitude and direction is displayed on the radar screen. In a basic, old generation monochrome radar system, none of this is possible and all that an ATC officer sees is a "blip" on the screen.

I forgot to mention in the article another incident when I was flying a small 10 seat multi engine piston from Goa to Mumbai and the ATC "lost" us on radar and we had to practically go around observing ground landmarks in Mumbai to let the ATC know where we were flying over!

Madhukar said...

Capt. Murthy
Thanks for clearing the mess - at least in the minds of the readers of this blog - about the problems and facilities. I reside in Bangalore and see a lot of planes in the evening approach for landing. I had always wondered why air craft used beaming lights while approaching for landing.
I now understand that since the ATC is not able to spot the aircraft on its radar, relies on the light beamed by the approaching the runway for landing to guide the aircraft on to the runway. Imagine if the radio contact is also lost. The pilot would then have to use his light to see the runway. SCARY

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Actually Mr. Madhukar, the landing lights usage during low visibility and evening/night is mandatory and does allow runway sighting by the pilot. However, you may have noticed that in Bangalore and other places, the landing lights are on during day time as well during an approach to landing and this is a way for the ATC to spot the Aircraft. You are right on that.

Coming to the part of radio contact. If we loose this, there are procedures for a pilot to handle that situation. The radio contact with the tower or approach control, especially in a high density airport, is mainly for traffic seperation.

You may ask how come with all these deficiencies that the incidents of an "air miss" (Hence the article title Air Mess!)between Aircraft is not that high or that actual collisions are very rare. Aircraft these days have a mandatory equipment on board called the TCAS - Trafficalert collision Avoidance System. This system interrogates with similar equipment on other Aircraft and displays that Aircraft's information such as speed and direction. The TCAS II system is devised in such a way that the equipment displays the position, altitude and speed of another Aircraft with respect to your Aircraft and also provides a resolution in case of an impending conflict (collision). Aircraft that are coming too close will be seen as a red icon on the display instrument of the TCAS and there will be an loud audible voice in the cockpit (and in the pilots headset) and also the resolution advise which will let the pilot know in which direction to turn or climb or descend in order to avoid a conflict. You may hear these words in the cockpit as a pilot): "Collision, Collision, turn right, climb" etc and the indicator on the panel shows an arrow in the direction of the turn to be made in order to avoid a collision.

There are other devices on board that help in navigation and guidance to the runway and we really don't need the ATC except for traffic seperation and that they assign take off and landing priorities, depending on the position of each Aircraft. Thats why they need to have a good radar that can let them know the position of all the traffic in their area of operation. Visual sequesncing is impossible because even with landing lights on, an Aircraft may be visible to the ATC only on final approach, that is when the Aircraft is aligned with the runway. Hope this clarifies things.

Madhukar said...

Thanks Capt. Murthy,
Very descriptive details for a layman like me interested in air crafts. Actually am an amateur radio operator. That is what got me interested in the operation of air crafts.
That really clears up a lot of Mess in my mind, at least. Hope the general mess also gets cleared up fast.

GVK said...

I see this blog is turning out to be a talk-shop for those with flair for aviation. I belong to the other category of occasional traveller interested in service-focused issues.
Bangalore airport, for instance, has an overflowing car-park; and one sometimes finds it difficult to find parking space within walking distnce to the airport. I don't know if Bangalore has thought of setting up airport dedicated parking lots, even if thay be four or five km away, with free shuttle service to the airport

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Thanks for your question Mr. GVK. At the venue of the New Bangalore International Airport being developed at Devanahalli, new parking areas have also been planned according to international norms. It helps when a multi-national consortium including the Swiss are involved, with enough experience operating professionally run Airports.

At the present Airport in Bangalore that belongs to the H.A.L, the area is very congested and a remote parking area for vehicle should have been planned many years ago. This is a problem with most of the major Airports in India, not only Bangalore. What has happened is that commercial development around major Airports in India have mushroomed to such an extent that the Airport outside area has been constricted for space.

Abroad, as you may have seen, most parking is at a multi-level car parking area that is connected to the main terminal building linked through concrete overpass and in many overseas Airports, long term open area parking has been set up with free shuttle busses running to and from the terminal. These shuttle busses are operated by the Airport Authority/owner or operator of the Airport. You may have also seen Rent-A-car agencies such as Avis and Hertz located well outside the Airport perimeter area and again accessible by free shuttle bus or courtesy car.

Coming back to Bangalore Airport at H.A.L. it seems that in the early days H.A.L played lip service to commercial operations at their Airport. In fact they really did not want Airlines to operate because they felt that their own flight testing of Aircraft would face disruptions whenever a commercial Airline operated in an out. They resisted the expansion of the civil conclave at that time. At some later point in time, many new operators started to fly in and out of Bangalore and at that time H.A.L. was going thru a limbo and they saw the massive revenues coming from the landing fees from the new operators and grew greedy. Thats when they allowed the expansion of the terminal and they did the expansion of the tarmac. By then, it was again, too little too late! Even if you travel four/five kilometers around the present airport in Bangalore, there is no space for parking. I'd also like to say that similar problems exist at other "dual use" Airports. By dual use I mean an Airport that the Airports Authority of India has limited access but having many commercial flight operating in. The owner/operator of the Airport is generally another entity, usually the defence forces and that puts a damper on whatever activity the civilians may want to do. Some of these dual use airports are Goa (owned by the Indian Navy-Air Arm), Pune/Poona (Indian Air Force Station), Chandigarh (IAF again) and so on. I remember that it was a nightmare to operate into Goa till a couple of years back and the Navy had strict timings when commercial airlines would be allowed in and out. That has again been liberalized now. The power of money!

There is hope with the new International Airport at Bangalore and the parking issue will likely be addressed professionally. The other good thing is the modernization and upgrading of the Airports at Mumbai and New Delhi by private parties led by experienced Airport developers and they are planning to address parking and the congestions issues at these Airports as well. There's light at the end of the tunnel it seems!

Anonymous said...

Light at the end of the tunnel is always a relief. As a slightly off the topic thought, being a Non Resident Mysorean, I wonder if sufficient provision has been earmarked for the parking spaces in the plans for the upgradation of the Mysore Airport. It certainly is one of the messy topics when it comes to airports. I remember a photograph of the Amsterdam (?) runway built over and above a highway. The Airport Authority of India could have certainly thought of going in for multilevel parking in old airports that were upgraded over the years.

Madhukar said...

Forgot to enter my name for the above comment

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Vijendra Rao said...

The comment I posted - it was the thirteenth - made its appearance for a brief while and disappeared. It was a bit longish.
Vijendra Rao

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

I did not see your comments on 13th Mr. Vijendra, wonder if the same can be posted again? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Dear Capt. Anup,
To write from my memory of what I wrote:
As usual, we don't seem to have learnt anything from the Chakri Dadri mid-air crash. If I remember right, it was attributed to the growing air traffic. Things have only gone worse since then.
I remember my own semi-scary, semi-funny experience flying in - what I think was - a 15-seater - from New York to Rochester. They call it the puddle-hopper. It was reminiscent of our own private-operated mini buses that ferry passengers to places not covered by state transport. In the case mentioned here, even the flight attendant, going by the name Ali, a Black Muslim, seemed to be as informal as the guy that attracts commuters with his 'Yarree, Hunsur, Hunsur?'
Bangalore Airport is undoubtedly worse than the Bangalore Railway Station.
On the CNN-IBN journalist being alarmist: Well, I am reminded of Vishnu Som, the NDTV 24 X 7 newscaster, being needlessly alarmist, the other day. The Air India spokesman had just revealed that its Delhi-Frankfurt flight had safely landed in Mumbai after a snag it developed soon after take-off. (Of course, the spokesman made some semantic distinction that it was not "emergency landing," but landing in an "emergency situation". It was a typical bureaucratic approach, I thought). Som still asks the question of the spokesman: "So there were no injuries?" (sic). Nonetheless, being alarmist has its spin-offs, I guess.
All things considered, isn't what we are witnessing in the Indian skies the same as what is happening on our roads: overcrowding of roads with all sorts of automobiles, but little by way of safety promotion?
Vijendra Rao

Vijendra Rao said...

Using this as a pretext to reproduce one from my collection of essays "Run of the mind".
Here it goes:

Poignant voyeurism

Frankfurt Airport. A cloudy autumnal morning. Not long ago. I had occupied a vantage point in the lounge. Just behind them. Planes flew in and flew out at a higher frequency than public transport buses do at the Central Bus Station in Bangalore. But they were oblivious to everything. Soon, I followed suit. They were so passionately enmeshed in Cupid’s aura that I could barely take my gaze off them. I decided not to move from there.

Silence and kisses vied with one another to download a perennial stream of loaded blank messages directly into their hearts. It was as if the two young Frankfurters would never be convinced about the uninterrupted transmission of their non-verbal communication. Passion has a Hitlerian power to blank out words. Their repetitive, but limited, motions almost gave them the look of two battery-operated mannequins, but the intensity of their expression readily removed any such doubt. His right hand made slow but hard movements up and down her back. His fingers were dripping with love and seemingly used her vertebra as the strings of the viola that her back had become. The torrent of love-arrows from their eyes was bang on target and as if hit by them, they shut their eyes every now and then. They took eyefuls of each other but still had space in them to accommodate more.

Their hearts too had developed an unquenchable thirst. The vibrations within blended so well to make it a rhapsody of silent resonance. Then, each passing moment, however, began to make them restless. The “musician-duo” had suddenly come to be aware of the music they were playing. Love was both the cause and the remedy of the malady that would afflict them shortly. The malady of separation would bring their present melody to an abrupt but anticipated end.

They might have anticipated it all right, but the anticipation had not prepared them for the moment. The moment of the ugly truth. Then there was the announcement, which sounded deathly and harshly impersonal under the circumstances. It was piercing through the damp air. It was time to check in. The eyes that had oozed with love until just the other moment bore every sign of a turbulent sea. The girl trudged heavily toward the plane. Very much like a tiny tot would reluctantly move in the direction of her school during the initial days of kindergarten. The two kept waving until she got into the New York-bound plane. As if in mockery, the thin veil of fog lifted. The plane, too, lifted from its moorings.

There was all round buoyancy. My wish that she would sit next to me did not come true. I had been so strongly moved by their passion during those dying moments that I didn’t want them to be separated even if it meant cancellation of her trip to wherever. I was feeling their pain. I had been longing to get a chance to pacify her. I turned back once to find the girl fully covered in gloom, her heart and mind immersed in him. There was none to chat her up. Not that she would have looked forward to the prospect of some cacophony shattering her silence.

Vijendra Rao

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Firstly Mr. Vijendra, I thank you for the reproduction of the essay, lovely piece, very well written.

Coming to the Chakri-dadri crash, that was primarily due to two airplanes flying in a narrow corridor being used for New Delhi approach and departure because of the many restricted airspace areas around Delhi and one of the airplanes did not communicate and comply with the ATC/Approach instructions (see "language problems in aviation"-another of my articles on this blog site) and there was a mid air colission resulting in India's biggest mid-air aviation disaster.

In fact, this was the incident that prompted the Civil Aviation Authorities in India to insist on all aircraft flying in and out of India to be equipped with a ACAS (Airborne Colission Avoidance System)which was a new technology thoe days and no other country at that time had a mandatory requirement for installing this. I have mentioned about the TCAS (same as the ACAS) system in one of my reply postings on this same subject above.

The Indian airspace is getting crowded but there is still too much of unutilized airspace. I have also put in a reply about the antiquated radar systems used by the ATC in india, in this same article. There are many factors that cause aviation accidents but having said that, it is still statistically the safest mode of transport. Aviation safety is not taken lightly anywhere and there are regulations that are strict. But, the fact is that with increased number of operators, limited availability of airport infrastructure, the poor quality of ATC equipment all adds up to the problem of congestion and that doesn't help aviation safety. Oh, add the part about foreign pilots flying for airlines here because of the pilot shortage and their accents not being easily understood by our ATC chaps and you have a pot boiler!

Nice to know you flew puddle jumpers. I have been a pilot of such airplanes (9 seats to 50 seats)for a long time in the US and elsewhere.

Yes, I saw Vishnu Som's newscast and that was more than alarmist, it was sensationalized too much. Thats how they get their ratings up I guess. It was about a tire burst on take off on a Boeing 747. That is not a real emergency. All the pilot has to do is dump excess fuel to get the aircraft lighter for landing. There are too many wheels and tires on a B747 and absolutely nothing happens if a few burst. Since Air India technical HQ is at Mumbai, they decided to bring the airplane there and get the tires replaced. This exercise could have been done at Frankfurt but standard operating procedure of the company was to bring it back since it was very close to india. Also, doing this in Frankfurt would have been real expensive. I hope this addresses your questions. Please fell free to ask more if required, I'll be more than pleased to post clarifications.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Capt. Anup,
It is always nice to listen to a specialist. Your response was very educative. I will sure have more questions from time to time.
Vijendra Rao

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

I have to add a comment since I mentioned about ACAS/TCAS in my previous reply in in some of my earlier writings on this blog. Today, March 21st Mumbai online edition of Times of India reports that a Russian Charter flght and Emirates, heading in opposite directions over Mumbai avoided collission because the TCAS system on both Aircraft aletered the pilots of both Aircraft! It seems that the Russian pilot misunderstood the ATC (as I have been writing about matters earlier)and that put both planes on a path of interception. TCAS saved the day!

Vijendra Rao said...

Dear Captain,
I have followed your advice and set up a separate blog - media muddle. Please visit it, where we will continue our interaction.
Vijendra Rao

Vijendra Rao said...

Please note that my new blog has the following link.

It is to excavate the muddle that media is all about.

Vijendra Rao

s said...

I just read this blog site I am a senior air traffic cdontroller at bangalore airport. regarding the lights the aircraft keep on during day time is one of the methods to scare the birds, not for us to spot the aircraft. It is painful to read comments like bangalore has no radar and we do not know ther position of the aircraft. you can come over to see for yourself. It is true that we do not have a SSR at bangalore but we have aprimary radar which detects aircraft upto 2nm from touch down, additionally we are the only civil airport to have a precision approach radar where we can see aircraft upto touch down. I think some people are degrading the service provided by HAL ATC. This the only airport which not only handles civil but important aircraft developmental flights like LCA, IJT.

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Dear Mr S, I am sorry that this article has been one written from frustrations all around and that clearly reflects. But that is not to say that I am wrong in indicting the Bangalore situation. Actually, there's more indictment of the Mumbai ATC and the horror stories continues with the system in India since I used to regularly fly in and out based abroad. I don't fly into Bangalore as a pilot for the last fewyears and depend on other pilots reporting on the scene, who are flying there.
I mentioned that SSR is lacking in Bangalore, not that it is completely blind. I know the Primary radar is used and like you have mentioned, the range is around 2 NM, thats not enough in my opinion, having traversed around the World, we still have the most antiquated systems. Bangalore should have been treated differently and upgraded well simply because the density if civilian traffic is growing fast as well as due to the fact that important projects like the LCA are tested there.
There's nothing but praise from me as far as the ATC officers are concerned. With the antiquated system they have and the "pressure cooker" sitution that they work under, I find Bangalore ATC officers are courteous and very "gentlemenly" and professional when it comes to trafic seperation and in their general RT procedures. I must stick to criticizing the equipment or lack of it and not confuse with the people manning it. This is in the hope that enough criticism from the public may result in improvement of the generally dismal scenario in Indian Aviation. Maybe I see it from a different angle, living and working (and perhaps spoilt)from Airports that are light years ahead of anything we have in any airport in India.
Thanks again Mr. S, for your kind comments. Please continue with your good work, pilots do appreciate what you are trying to do in the most difficult circumstances.

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