Fog procedures must be changed at Abu Dhabi airport, pilots say
ABU DHABI // Fog procedures must be made more effective in the capital if passengers’ plans are not to be derailed by inclement weather at Abu Dhabi International Airport, according to pilots.
The airport is equipped with the Category IIIb Instrument Landing System (ILS), considered the best radio beam transmitter guidance system to help pilots land in low visibility conditions. The equipment has been proven to help planes land safely with a runway visual range of 46 metres.
However, according to a veteran Etihad pilot, the General Civil Aviation Authority allows aircraft in the UAE to land only if visibility is at least 75 metres, despite the airport being equipped with a system that allows for a shorter range.
“Operation in fog needs very precise instrument landing systems. This is one part and we have it,” said the pilot, who asked not to be named. “The second part is having a system that allows the air-traffic controller to control the traffic on the ground, which I haven’t seen.”
At other airports, Jersey in the Channel Islands, for example, the facility is equipped with only a Category I ILS, permitting planes to land at 61-metres visibility.
Decreasing the landing limit, the pilot said, had created the bottleneck scenarios and resulting delays experienced in Abu Dhabi over the past few days.
When an aircraft lands in low visibility it also needs to be guided to docking areas and gates, resulting in scenarios where passengers are sometimes left waiting in parked planes.
He said that when planes taxi to their parking positions they are directed by the air-traffic controller, a sometimes difficult task when they cannot see the aircraft.
“Most of the airports that have to deal with fog conditions have this radar, but in Abu Dhabi whenever I’ve landed and I ask somebody about this radar I never get an answer. So I don’t know.”
Another concern, he pointed out, was that the airlines flying in and out of Abu Dhabi were growing faster than the airport itself.
Another pilot, who has worked for an Arabian Gulf airline since 2008, said that taxiing was just as important to maintaining schedules at airports as was landing.
“The ILS system can be fully functioning, but if the taxi system is down the problem of delays will remain.”
He said that other airports, even those without equipped radar systems for taxiing, have some sort of system where they are able to offload passengers.
In Abu Dhabi there have been cases where passengers have been kept waiting in landed aircraft – without any definite disembarkation time – for more than 12 hours.
“I have landed in other foggy situations and they [airports] use a basic rally system, which is coordination between the pilot, ground and air-traffic control to taxi in.”
Other airports that frequently deal with foggy weather have advisory pages and clear policies for such situations. Canberra international airport in Australia has a web page dedicated to explaining passenger rights, and recommendations on how to avoid fog delays.
Elsewhere, airlines and aviation authorities have established reimbursement policies for passengers whose flight schedules have been derailed.
The European Union aviation authority, for example, has a set policy of paying passengers whose flights have been cancelled or delayed between €200 (Dh881) and €600 in compensation.
“The problem is clear,” said the Etihad pilot. “AUH has no policy. Etihad met with them and told them their vision, but they haven’t kept up.”
Updated: January 4, 2015 04:00 AM