NEW DELHI: It is 5.15 pm and the air traffic controller in Lucknow glances at his radio tower(RT) warily. Traffic may build up any moment and he can already conjure up images of the choppers ferrying the star campaigners and political heavyweights back to the state capital Lucknow, after a daylong campaign in interior UP.
However, the controller cannot locate these aircraft/choppers as he does not have radar assistance to guide him. The ATC has to therefore depend solely on his RT information,transmitted by the pilot and his own rough calculation, to picture the exact position of these aircraft.
The job poses a huge challenge as 20-30 choppers return roughly around the same time, just before sunset, crowding the flight space and asking for priority to land. The RT crackles and one of the chopper pilots informs his coordinates. Another incoming aircraft announces its position as 10-15 miles from the airport. Yet another comes in and does the same. The controller jots this down and starts planning the arrival.
Adding to the ATC officials’ woes, the scheduled landing of other aircraf could not be delayed as their on-time performance gets affected. Meanwhile, a chopper pilot declares that he has just 10 minutes of fuel left in the helicopter. Others, who were hovering in the air and listening to this transmission, decide to apply the same tactic and
start declaring their limited fuel stock and demanding a priority landing.The controller now had at least 15 choppers waiting to land in a gap of 15 minutes, that too without the aid of a radar and limited manual help.
“Delaying scheduled flights gets us a rap from the headquarters while delaying choppers beyond sunset is impossible as they have only visual aids to land,” a controller said.
From the ATC standpoint,it is a rather dicey situation, since the person on board may be a Advani or Gadkari or a Mulayam Singh Yadav. None of these lives could be regarded as a lesser priority. And this is a daily occurrence during the election campaign, when the choppers of various political parties are haphazardly parked in the apron space at the Lucknow Airport--30 choppers parked in the space meant for 15.