NEW DELHI : Hundreds of flights from the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) had to be cancelled or were delayed on Monday, as the coldest day in December in more than a hundred years, wrapped India’s capital in a thick blanket of fog.
At least 40 flights from IGIA were cancelled, 21 diverted and over 300 were delayed, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said. The severe chill, which resulted in visibility conditions dropping drastically, caused temporary halts in flight departures throughout the day.
India’s largest domestic airline, IndiGo, said dense fog in north India disrupted its operations. “We will continue to review the situation and provide real time updates on our social platforms,” the airline said in a statement. Others, such as AirAsia India, GoAir and SpiceJet, which were also impacted by the fog, asked passengers to check flight status before leaving for the airport due to delays caused by the weather.
Many passengers who had boarded the aircraft had to wait for hours before the plane could depart. “We are No. 68 in the departure sequence. Currently no departures are happening out of Delhi due to poor visibility…time of departure is currently undetermined. Can’t we get down and go home?” said a passenger, Mohit Joshi, on Twitter.
Full-service carrier Vistara said in a statement on Twitter that six flights were affected due to poor visibility, while Air Asia said the “dense fog and poor visibility in Delhi” may impact more flights.
Flight cancellations to Delhi have become an annual ritual. On Monday, the national capital recorded its coldest day since 1901, with maximum temperature at Safdarjung meteorological station plummeting to the lowest ever at 9.4 °C.
“This December is the second coldest December since 1901. Usually, January is the coldest winter month, but this time, the mercury has broken decades’ record in December itself,” said Kuldeep Shrivastava, head, regional weather forecasting centre, New Delhi.
“There could be slight increase in temperatures over the next few days, as cold north-westerly winds are slowly getting replaced by easterlies, due to a change in the wind direction. But the conditions will still remain very cold,” Shrivastava added.
Unlike the chilly north-westerly winds coming from upper Himalayan region, easterlies (coming from Uttar Pradesh) are known to be relatively warmer and humid. However this time, even the easterlies are colder, since Uttar Pradesh and central India are reeling under cold conditions since last two weeks. The minimum temperatures have fallen significantly from 26 December onwards, leading to severe cold wave conditions over Rajasthan, Punjab, Delhi, Haryana and west Uttar Pradesh and north Madhya Pradesh.
Flights to New Delhi had to rely on CAT III B Instrument Landing System (ILS), which allows flights to land safely within a visibility of 50 to 125 metres, especially during morning and evening hours when visibility is at its poorest. A Twitter handle of the Delhi airport said that pilots could land in the capital because of the system.
Since all pilots are not trained on the system due to expenses involved in training, not all aircraft are able to operate according to schedule. To operate flights during heavy fog, airports, airlines and pilots have to be CAT IIIB-certified. While the runways at airport at Delhi is CAT IIIB-certified, not all aircraft have the certification.
“Indian airlines do not have enough pilots who are CAT III B-certified,” said aviation expert Devesh Agarwal.
The dense fog also hit other transport with a delay in as many as 23 trains coming to Delhi on Monday. Poor visibility also hit road traffic with several reports of accidents.
There is unlikely to be much relief from the severe cold over the capital in the next few days. In its latest forecast, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) is expecting a fresh spell of rainfall/snowfall over Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh over the next four days and scattered rains over Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Delhi, due to a western disturbance, which has impacted the western Himalayan region.
“There could be hailstorm and lightning at isolated places over the region, including Delhi over the next two days, during the New Year. Since there is a change in wind direction, the fog may also reduce in intensity, but enhanced moisture will create foggy conditions after 4 January,” said Mahesh Palawat, meteorologist with private weather forecasting agency Skymet.