Fliers on the receiving end as airlines ‘ignore’ their troubles
KATHMANDU, April 15: Delays and cancellations of domestic flights have lately become routine events at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), thanks to poor visibility due to increased levels of fine dust particles in the air, and a surge in air traffic.
When there is low visibility, less than 5 km, pilots have to switch to Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) plan from Visual Flight Rules (VFR) plan while landing, causing significant delays.
VFR are a set of regulations under which a pilot operates an aircraft in weather conditions generally clear enough to allow the pilot to see where the aircraft is going. But when operation of an aircraft under VFR is not safe, because the visual cues outside the aircraft are obscured by weather or darkness, IFR must be used instead. Under the IFR, the pilot navigates only by reference to the instruments in the aircraft cockpit. IFR procedures are almost always more time-consuming than VFR.
TIA spokesperson Prem Nath Thakur attributed the delays and cancellations of domestic flights to poor visibility in Kathmandu and a rise in the number of flights to Solukhumbu, Bharatpur and Pokhara on the occasion of the Nepali New Year and amid a surge in the number of foreign tourists.
Due to poor visibility and a rise in the number of flights, planes have to wait in queue to take-off and land, causing massive delays, and sometimes cancellations, according to Thakur.
On Thursday, TIA handled 430 take-offs and landings (including both domestic and international), a significant rise from 350 normal daily flights, said Thakur. “A few minutes of delay in the morning can mess up the entire flight schedules for the day,” added Thakur.
On Thursday, Buddha Air cancelled two flights to Bharatpur and three to Pokhara as these airports do not have night landing facility. “It has almost become normal for us to cancel late flights due to the poor visibility in Kathmandu,” said Birendra Bahadur Basnet, managing director of Buddha Air.
Expressing hope that the forecast of rainfall in the next few days would clear the skies, Basnet said the domestic airlines were also bearing the brunt of delays and cancellations due to TIA according higher priority to international flights.
Although the number of international flights has not increased, they have also been forced to fly around, sometimes for hours, waiting for their turn to land.
Travelers have complained about airlines not conveying proper message about delays and cancellations and ignoring them even when they have to remain in the waiting lounge for hours.
Sujan Niraula said his Buddha Air flight to Biratnagar was delayed by about three hours Thursday. “I was only told there was traffic congestion, but was not conveyed the actual reasons even as I enquired with the airline counter several times,” said Nirauala over the phone. His flight was originally scheduled for 4:00 pm but it took of only at 6:45 pm.
Suman Acharya’s case was worse. He had to wait for almost 10 hours for his Saurya Airlines flight to Biratnagar to take off. Originally scheduled for 11:00 am, the flight took off only at 9:00 pm.
“It’s really boring to wait for 10 hours. We were neither informed about the actual reason for the delay nor were we served any food. We were forced to pay exorbitant prices for the food at the airport restaurant,” complained Acharya. Acharya said he was told by the airline that Air Traffic Control was down, but TIA’s Thakur said there were no such problems besides poor visibility.