Not on cloud nine: Airports in snowy regions suffer in absence of guidance system

Civil aviation officials say ILS limited to Lahore; no plans for entire country


Umer Farooq January 09, 2016
Civil aviation officials say ILS limited to Lahore; no plans for entire country. PHOTO: FILE

PESHAWAR: With other countries using the latest technology to operate flights in low visibility and bad weather, flight schedules often remain uninterrupted. Pakistan’s northern regions however do not benefit from any such technology.

Recent rain and snow has meant airports in areas such as Skardu have suspended flight operations. According to Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) officials in the provincial capital, new technology has been adopted even in Pakistan. The Instrument Landing System (ILS) was launched late 2015 in the city of Lahore with much fanfare and will be installed at the new airport in Islamabad.

The ILS is a ground-based radionavigation guidance system. The Category (CAT) IIIb Instrument Landing System gifted by Qatar to Pakistan for Allama Iqbal International Airport Lahore can help landing at visibility of 50 metres. However, its success has not been gauged as yet.

“I don’t think CAA has any plans to install ILS throughout the country but it has at some facilities,” said a CAA official. He added keeping in mind safety, the CAA would rather cancel most flights than risk the lives of passengers.

When contacted, CAA Spokesperson Amir Mehboob told The Express Tribune the CAA was looking to improve the system. He said the prime minister and the special assistant to the PM for aviation Shujaat Azeem have been taking interest in upgrading things. Azeem was recently part of a Supreme Court of Pakistan proceeding regarding the privatisation of PIA.

“The CAA has been directed to carry out surveys and to identify things which need to be upgraded,” said Mehboob.

Suspended in Skardu

If you are in Skardu, Gilgit and Chitral and need to travel down south, you can only catch a ride back on an Islamabad flight; these airports rarely send out planes.

Around four PIA flights to Skardu have been suspended in the past few days. The recent one on Saturday was diverted to Islamabad due to bad weather. “The runway is clear as our men always keep it so for landing but weather causes us to halt operations at the airport,” said Skardu Airport Manager Obaid Abbasi over the telephone.

According to Gilgit-Baltistan Airport Manager Mubarak Shah, they operate 11 flights weekly, all from Islamabad. Currently, Shah said, the situation was under control as weather conditions were stable; over 980 passengers travel through the Gilgit airport every week.

The airport manager for Chitral, Waqas Mehboob, said over the telephone, they operated four flights weekly and the facility was currently functional. “ATRs operate here and we did not face any problem during the last week.” Waqas added around 352 passengers went to and from Chitral weekly.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 10th, 2016.

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