Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Radar crash spoils T3 show at IGI

On day one of the bigger, better and brand new terminal 3 at IGI airport, old problems came as a foil: a radar crash shortly after the first few landings at T3 on Wednesday led to departures being held up for almost half an hour.

The Autotrack-III, a system that is still undergoing validation trials, crashed around 5.50pm due to a technical glitch and the air traffic control system had to switch over to stand-by system Autotrack-II. According to sources, British PM David Cameron's British Airways flight from Bangalore was the last to land before ATC had to switch over to manual mode to guide landings.

The new terminal itself got mixed reviews from passengers. Arriving passengers and those who managed to check-in soon after reaching the airport were full of praise for the swank building and the efficient services but cityside management was in a shambles. Poor traffic management, no seating arrangements for waiting passengers till evening, chaos at the prepaid taxi stands and a clueless staff dampened the excitement of the new terminal.

The first flight that was to land at the new terminal was initially slated to be Air India's AI 102 from New York. However, instead of arriving at 4.45pm, the flight reached Delhi at 5.14pm and was pipped by AI 307 from Tokyo that landed at 5pm. About half an hour later, the radar problem led to departures being held up for close to 30 minutes. "The system was fixed about an hour later but ATC continued to operate on AT-II since the other system could not be validated. Before the switch over took place, ATC had to use manual mode to assist flights in landing. Nearby ATC zones were also told to hold flights in their respective airspace until the switchover happened," said sources.

Check-in for the first flight from T3 opened at 2.50pm and fliers were greeted with chocolates and sweets. But for scores of passengers who had connecting international flights at night and who had reached Delhi earlier in the day, there was no getting into the terminal in a hurry. With no check-in facilities available, many had to spend hours outside before Delhi International Airport (P) Ltd (DIAL) officials ushered them into a visitors lounge. The lounge itself was sparsely done with no food, water or restroom facilities. "We were asked by Jet Airways to reach Delhi in the morning and were told that we could wait at the terminal for our American Airlines flight that was scheduled for midnight. When we reached here, we were told to wait outside since we could not check in two hours prior to the departure of our flight. We walked up and down the terminal several times and nobody could tell us what to do. There was no food or water. This is such a disappointment," said Roopa Modukuri who arrived with her family from Bangalore at 11.30am.

With no signs outside to guide passengers to the visitors lounge, several continued to sit outside in the heat. "We arrived here from Leh at 12.30pm and have a flight to catch for Barcelona at 2am. The shuttle took two hours to bring us here from the domestic terminal and then we were told to wait outside in the heat without food or water," said Sylvia Villarrubia, a tourist. She was taken to the visitors' lounge at 4.30pm.

The arrival section was much better managed inside though the cityside section again witnessed major chaos once the evening traffic picked up. Delhi resident Jyoti Bhatia was one of the first passengers who came out of the arrival terminal. Having just arrived from Tokyo on AI 307, she described the terminal as fantastic. "Years after flying in and out of IGI airport, the experience today was very good. We were told that we would be the second flight to land so reaching here first made the experience doubly special," she said.

However, initial glitches continued to mar the experience. The conveyor belt kept stopping since the emergency buttons placed near the floor kept getting pressed with passengers standing close to the belt. This led to the belt stopping on several occasions and it took close to an hour to clear luggage of several flights. The duty-free too had only stocked alcohol and several shops were yet to open. Airlines complained that there were no facilities for their staff, including restrooms and canteens.

Outside the terminal, prepaid taxi drivers created more furore and sat on a dharna to protest against the lack of a prepaid counter outside. "We were earlier promised the first parking line outside the terminal but we were pushed back and radio cabs were accommodated there. There is no counter outside either so where are we to get our slips encashed from?" said a driver.


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