NEWDELHI: It is 5.15 pm and the air traffic controller (ATC) in Lucknow looks at his wireless radio set eagerly. Traffic may build up any moment and he is ready to create the mental picture and guide the helicopters flying the star campaigners and other politicians back to Lucknow after a long day’s campaign in the villages and towns of Uttar Pradesh. The controller can’t locate these craft for he has no radar to guide him. He depends only on the radio transmissions of the pilot and the rough calculations in his head to fix locations.
Calling the job a challenge is an understatement. Up to 30 helicopters return at roughly the same time, just before sunset, seeking priority to land. The radio transmitter crackles and one helicopter pilot informs the ATC his coordinates. Another scheduled aircraft announces his position as 10-15 miles from the airport. Yet another comes in and does the same. The controller notes it all vigorously and starts planning arrivals. Hopefully his calculations are accurate.
Scheduled aircraft landings cannot be delayed as their on-time-performance gets affected. Meanwhile, one helicopter declares that he has 10 minutes fuel left on him. Others in the air, listening to this transmission, decide to apply the same tactic and start declaring limited fuel for a priority landing. The controller now has at least 15 helicopters to land within 15 minutes apart from three scheduled flights, and all this without a radar monitor and limited helping hands.
The situation is precarious for it may be an Advani or a Gadkari or a Mulayam Singh Yadav on any one of the helicopters. This is a daily affair during the election campaigns when all these helicopters of various political parties are haphazardly parked in the limited apron space at Lucknow airport (30 parked in the space meant for 15). “Delaying scheduled flights gets us a rap from headquarters while delaying choppers beyond sunset is impossible as they have only visual aids to land,” one controller says.