Thursday, December 15, 2011

India: ‘Airlines are not sticking to standardized block timings’

MUMBAI: Early arrival of flights at Mumbai is causing massive congestion. What's equally worrying is that though the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has issued a standardized block time for all flights, airlines continue to manipulate timings to maintain an untainted on-time performance record.

Data submitted to the civil aviation ministry shows that in October, 1,435 flights arrived more than 15 minutes before the scheduled time. In November, 1,239 flights arrived early.

The flights that arrived early in November included 306 of Jet Airways, 234 of Kingfisher and 224 of IndiGo. Most airport officials TOI spoke to said at least 65-70% of these early arrivals happen during the evening hours when air traffic is generally high.

"If flights arrive early into the city's air space, they interfere with those already slotted to land as well as those that have arrived late," said a senior airport official. "The airport already handles more flights than the sanctioned limit during peak hours. If flights arrive early, the load increases. This is why aircraft spend 30-45 minutes circling in the sky at night," he added.

Industry insiders are aware that airlines often fudge flight block timings to show a good on-time performance record. This is why the journey time on tickets varies even if the sector (Mumbai-Jaipur, for instance) is the same. For instance, the actual flying time-or block time-from Mumbai to Jaipur is an hour and 30 minutes. However, one airline may give the block time as an hour and 35 minutes, while another may have a more inflated schedule of an hour and 50 minutes.

"Airlines do this to create a buffer for delays. So, even if they are delayed, a higher block time on paper gives them room to land a bit late and still be on time," an airport official said. "However, most of them arrive early and ask for landing when other scheduled flights are already waiting," he added.

An official from director general of civil aviation Bharat Bhushan's office said the issue of early arrivals has been resolved in the winter schedule. "All flights have a standardized block time and it is being followed. We have loaded all details about the block time on our website," the official said, adding: "The discrepancies are due to weather and wind conditions."

However, TOI checked a popular travel portal where airlines have listed varied journey timings for the same destination. For instance, different GoAir flights from Mumbai to Delhi on December 17 showed different journey timings. The 6am flight lists the journey time between the two cities as two hours and five minutes, while the one at 5.20pm gives it as two hours and 15 minutes; the one departing at 8.30pm gives the time as one hour and 45 minutes. A SpiceJet flight on the same day lists the journey time as two hours.

Airport officials said the situation has improved, but not by much. "Earlier, more than half the flights coming into the city had inflated block timings. Now, with the ministry and the DGCA looking closely at the matter, the numbers have come down considerably," an air traffic controller said.

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