New Delhi | Shashi Tharoor and Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia engaged in a war of words over flight delays due to fog and the ensuing chaos at the Delhi airport, with the Congress leader terming it a "Modi Government-made disaster" and the minister hitting back at him with the "arm-chair critic" jibe.
Scindia claimed Tharoor is "lost in his esoteric world of thesaurus", and for him "data mining of selective press articles from the internet qualifies as "research".
The minister's caustic response came after Tharoor alleged in a series of six posts on X that the chaos at the Delhi airport is a result of the "neglect and incompetence" of the Ministry of Civil Aviation which has failed to put in place modern facilities like at other international airports of the world.
Tharoor alleged India's aviation sector is in a sorry state and that the ministry has not been able to ensure airports in Delhi and other Indian cities are of such global standard that aircraft can land there even in zero visibility.
The ministry has also not made sure trained pilots are deployed during winter months who can land in lower visibility, he claimed.
"Delhi Airport has been in chaos recently. The young professional wanting to go home for Makar Sankranti. The Army officer was excited to visit his ancestral village for Lohri. The anxious son trying to get home to take care of an unwell parent. Thousands of peoples' lives and schedules have been disrupted by a regular, predictable, foggy winter day. It's a Modi Government-made disaster, a result of the Ministry of Civil Aviation's neglect and incompetence," Tharoor said in one of the posts.
Sharing news reports, Tharoor said that Delhi's IGI Airport got a brand-new CAT III-B (Category III)-compliant runway, an advanced landing system that allows pilots to land even when there is fog or the visibility is as low as 50 metres, in 2008 at a cost of Rs 1,000 crore.
"In total, Delhi has four runways, two of which are CAT III-B compliant. In all its wisdom, the Modi government began maintenance work on one of the two CAT III-B runways in September 2023, fully aware that it would not be ready for the winter! "Even worse, a crane from some other construction work was blocking operation of CAT III-B on one runway, even after repairs were complete. Delhi Airport flagged this over 10 days ago, on January 5, but no action was taken," he said.
"In addition to runways, pilots must be trained to land with CAT III-B instrument landing. The Ministry of Civil Aviation and the DGCA failed to ensure that airlines have sufficiently trained pilots. Further, it did not even ensure that pilots planning to fly to Delhi during fog conditions were CAT III-B trained. Therefore, multiple flights were diverted to cities like Jaipur and Ahmedabad," the Congress leader said.
The aviation minister gave a point-by-point rebuttal in an equal number of posts.
"It is for someone who is lost in his esoteric world of thesaurus that data mining of selective press articles from the internet qualifies as 'research'. Here are some actual facts for arm-chair critic Shashi Tharoor and the Congress IT Cell that might help tackle their lack of depth in understanding of technical sectors like civil aviation.
"Runway maintenance work is a critical safety element for aviation operations, and any compromise with runway conditions directly jeopardizes passenger safety. As a result, the maintenance was taken on top priority to be completed by 15th December before the onset of the fog season. However, due to pollution incidents and enforcement of GRAP-IV in Delhi, the recarpeting got delayed, resulting in a delay of one month in its commissioning. The revamped RWY is getting operational this week," the aviation minister claimed.
He said the crane was being used for the construction of another critical infrastructure project - the Dwarka Expressway.
However, in view of its impact on the runway, it has now been decided that the crane operation shall be allowed only on non-fog days, he said.
"On sufficiently trained pilots, your claim is incorrect and baseless, as usual! As compared to only 2416 CAT II/CAT III trained pilots in 2014, today we have 6191 CAT II/CAT III trained pilots which is a jump of 2.5 times in the last 9 years. Further, in preparation for the fog season of 2023-24, due to our efforts, the number of CAT II/CAT III trained pilots have grown by 16% in the last three months alone from 5332 to 6191.
"Also, the DGCA mandates airlines to deploy CAT IIIB compliant aircraft only with qualified crew during the winter season. Any violations are strictly dealt with by the regulator, DGCA. For instance, show cause notices were issued to Spicejet and Air India." he said.