Flight movement came to a halt at IGI airport on Sunday evening for 46 minutes as all its three runways had to be closed after the pilot of an incoming aircraft saw a drone-like flying object on the final approach path. Due to this peak hour closure, almost 20 incoming flights were diverted.
After operations resumed, there was massive backlog of flights that led to huge delays. The schedule was expected to normalise only around midnight.
This was the second scare within eight hours as a flying object was sighted by an incoming Chinese airliner in the morning. However, then only one runway was closed and the other two remained open.
The unprecedented airport closure happened when Air Asia India’s Goa-Delhi flight I5-799 was going to land. Due to changed wind direction, the plane was approaching from the Gurgaon side on the third runway (11-29).
“Around 7.09pm, when the plane was 2.8km from touchdown, its pilots reported seeing a drone on the approach path. The drone was in such a position that allowing incoming planes to land on the main runway (10-28) was not possible,” said a senior air traffic control (ATC) official.
Air Asia India said in a statement: “The pilots of flight I5-799 spotted an unidentified object flying close to the aircraft while landing… Our pilots followed normal procedure and carried out an uneventful landing. Upon landing, the pilot reported the incident to ATC… (and)… DGCA.”
Operations on the three runways were closed at 7.09pm and security agencies like Delhi Police, CISF and BCAS were informed. The boarding for all flights was also halted. The security agencies scanned the airport’s nearby areas and then gave clearance for operations to resume.
“We first started departures. After getting clearance from chief of aviation security, both arrivals and departures were resumed at 7.55pm from all runways,” the ATC official said.
An Air India official said: “Two of our flights to Delhi, including one on a wide body, had to be diverted. We instructed all our aircraft flying into Delhi on Sunday night to carry extra fuel for hovering as delays could last till midnight.”
In a tweet, Jet Airways said flights delays of up to 45 minutes were expected till 11pm. A tweet by Vistara said its Lucknow-Delhi flight had to return to Lucknow.
Police said that the incident may be children trying to fly drones, but they are probing further to check if miscreants were trying to create panic. “Preliminary evidence suggests it may simply be a coincidence,” said DCP (IGI) Sanjay Bhatia.