While individual incidents of air misses are not worrisome, the high number indicates high air traffic congestion.

Lack of infrastructure manpower leading to high number of air misses in India
news Aviation Wednesday, December 18, 2019 - 23:27

Experts following the aviation sector in India have said that a combination of low government investment in infrastructure and shortage of human resources coupled with slow adoption of technology is leading to increasing incidents of air miss incidents across India. 

Air miss incidents are described as those when two aircrafts breach the minimum distance of 1,000 feet between them once airborne. India has seen a total of 141 such incidents in the last three years till November 22.

This revelation was made by Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat on behalf of the Minister of State Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri in the recently concluded winter session of the Lok Sabha.

According to the data shared by the government, the Mumbai Flight Information region is the worst when it comes to incidents of flight misses, followed by Delhi. While Mumbai saw 38 such instances, Delhi saw 37 in the same time period. Chennai also saw 32 such instances. 

Bengaluru flight information region has seen only 3 (2.18%) out of the 141 incident air misses in the country in the last three years. The latest such incident was in 2016. Kolkata is the fourth ranked in this aspect with 17 such instances recorded over a period of around three years. These incidents are often results of miscommunication, breach of protocol and human error from pilots. But the high occurrence is a matter of concern.

Lending context, Captain Mohan Ranganathan, an aviation safety consultant says that the numbers don’t necessarily mean that the Bengaluru air traffic personnel are doing a better job than their counterparts in Chennai, Mumbai or Delhi. 

“In Bengaluru, the traffic is mostly what is coming in and going out of Bengaluru while Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi have a lot of overflights. For example, Chennai sees a lot of air traffic across the Bay of Bengal,” explains Ranganathan.

He also pointed to the severe shortage of Air Traffic Control officers. “We are more than 500 officers short across the country. This leads to a lot of fatigue and crunch situations in adverse weather conditions. Under these conditions, pilots have to deviate and inexperienced or overburdened ATC personnel may not be aware about the proximity issue,” he added.

He cautioned against the government’s plans of adding new airports and flight routes without matching it with adequate manpower and infrastructural upgrades into the system.

Aviation experts say air misses alone are not a reason for worry as traffic collision avoidance systems (TCAS) are onboard. Moreover, these incidents occur mostly only when the aircraft are turning or descending or ascending which leads to aircraft coming into proximity of each other. 

Another aviation consultant, Mark Martin says, “For me, the high number of air misses is worrisome. The reason why this happens is due to high air traffic congestion. And let's be clear that we were supposed to constantly and cyclically upgrade our Air Traffic Control CNS-ATM (communication, navigation and surveillance for air traffic management) system all over India, this is an alarming requirement that has to be resolved. Unfortunately, the government has done absolutely nothing in the last 5-6 years with respect to GAGAN, the implementation of GAGAN and taking initiatives to upgrade India’s air space management system. The budget for an upgrade was approved in 2012-13; it was later re-tendered and today, we haven’t done anything for over 9-10 years.”

“I am hoping for a more mature outlook in the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Owing to the surge in air traffic in India, there is an urgent need for integration and upgradation of all radar systems to an advanced system ADS-B-In and ADS-B-Out (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) should be made mandatory for all aircrafts. This, however, comes at a cost, and the Ministry needs to work options to ensure the cost impact is minimal to both the Government as well as aircraft operators, aircraft owners and airlines,” he adds.

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