Delhi airport flight delays Jyotiraditya Scindia Shashi Tharoor in war of words over chaos

Amid a spate of flight delays and cancellations at Delhi airport in the last few days due to dense fog, that saw several passengers venting their anger at airlines, a war of words broke out between Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia and Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.

Calling it a “Modi govt-made disaster”, Tharoor, in a series of tweets, accused the government of “neglect and incompetence”.

“Delhi Airport has been in chaos recently. The young professional wanting to go home for Makar Sankranti. The Army officer excited to visit his ancestral village for Lohri. The anxious son trying to get home to take care of an unwell parent. Thousands of peoples’ lives and schedules have been disrupted by a regular, predictable, foggy winter day,” Tharoor tweeted.

Tharoor attacked the Centre for beginning maintenance work at the Delhi airport’s main CAT IIIB runway, which is equipped to handle flight operations during dense fog, in September last year, knowing well it won’t be ready for the foggy winter season.

On Tuesday, India Today reported that in its letter to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Delhi airport blamed G20 and imposition of GRAP IV anti-pollution-related measures for pushing back the December 15, 2023, deadline for completion of the runway.

Responding to Tharoor on social media, Scindia said runway maintenance work was a critical safety element for aviation operations. “Any compromise with runway conditions directly jeopardises passenger safety,” he said.

“As a result, the maintenance was taken on top priority to be completed by December 15 before the onset of the fog season. However, due to pollution incidents and enforcement of GRAP-IV in Delhi, the recarpeting got delayed, resulting in a delay of one month in its commissioning,” Scindia tweeted.

Scindia confirmed, as reported by India Today, runway 28/10 at Delhi airport would be operational this week after final inspection on Friday.


Tharoor, in his long post, also cited India Today’s exclusive report from Monday about how a crane from the Dwarka Expressway construction work was blocking operations of CAT IIIB on runway 29L/11R from one side.

Replying to him, Scindia said, “The crane was being used for the construction of another critical infrastructure project – the Dwarka Expressway. However, in view of its impact on the runway, it has now been decided that the crane operation shall be allowed only on non-foggy days. Thus, RWY 11R/29L is operational as CAT III as of yesterday.”

The Thiruvananthapuram MP also attacked the Ministry of Civil Aviation for failing to ensure adequately trained CAT IIIB pilots.

“Further, it did not even ensure that pilots planning to fly to Delhi during fog conditions were CAT III-B trained. Therefore, multiple flights were diverted to cities like Jaipur and Ahmedabad,” Tharoor tweeted.

On Sunday, at least 10 Delhi-bound flights were diverted to Jaipur. It was worse in December, when between 25th-28th of the month, 58 flights were diverted to neighbouring cities.


Union Minister Scindia called Tharoor’s claim incorrect and baseless. Hitting out at his former colleague, Scindia posted, “As compared to only 2,416 CAT II/CAT III trained pilots in 2014, today we have 6,191 CAT II/CAT III trained pilots, which is a jump of 2.5 times in the last 9 years.”

“Further, in preparation for the fog season of 2023-24, due to our efforts, the number of CAT II/CAT III trained pilots has grown by 16% in the last three months alone from 5,332 to 6,191,” he further said.

The minister clarified that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation mandates airlines to deploy CAT IIIB compliant aircraft only with qualified crew during winter and any violations are strictly dealt with, like in the case of Spicejet and Air India, which were served showcause notices.

Tharoor also mocked the government for not having CAT IIIC instrument landing system at Delhi airport, which can be used for precision landings even in zero visibility conditions.

“All the way back in 2008, the UPA government could ensure a CAT III-B runway. 16 years have passed since then, with 10 years under the present government. Still, they have yet to even plan a single CAT III-C runway,” Tharoor said.

“Across the world, major international airports have multiple CAT III-C runways, but India does not even have one, despite its capital city’s woeful fog & smog issues in winter. Why not?” he further said.

Scindia was quick to hit out. He said CAT III operations were dependent on runway capability, aircraft capability and pilot training.

“The two CAT III runways at Delhi Airport are equipped for aircraft to land with minimum visibility of up to 50 meters. However, the majority of the aircraft fleet in India viz. Airbus 320 (75 mtrs) and Boeing 737 Max (175 mtrs) have visibility minima greater than the runway threshold. Thus, even if the runway is capable and sufficiently trained CAT III pilots are made available, these aircraft are not designed for Zero Visibility operations,” Scindia explained.

Taking a jibe at Tharoor, Scindia said, “Further to give you a perspective, JFK (New York) airport in the USA has 4 runways, but the airport only has 1 runway capable of CAT III landing which is also with a restricted minima up to 182 mtrs (600 feet) – 3.5 times of India’s 50 mtrs! Go figure it out yourself – Enlightened, Mr Tharoor!”

Published By:

Abhishek De

Published On:

Jan 17, 2024

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