Fog no excuse for troubles Lahore airport faces

  • Installation of Category IIIB ILS system or any other updated system could resolve fog-related flight delays
  • CAA’s regulatory functions have been compromised because of commercial profits and conflicts of interest of top executive’s corporate interests and that of concerned ministry


Flight operations are disrupted every winter when RVR [Runway Visual Range] drops below 350 meters due to thick fog which literally shuts down Lahore airport for all aircraft. The Lahore airport has been equipped with ILS Category II system but the situation could be better managed by replacing it with Category IIIB ILS, which is also installed at the Delhi airport, which faces similar low visibility due to fog aggravated by pollution.

Indian Civil Aviation has sanctioned up-gradation of another airport at Kolkatta with ILS Category III on primary runway, making it the second in subcontinent to do so. This will enable aircraft to land when visibility drops to 50 meters, with work scheduled to start in February 2015 at the cost of $19 million or Indian Rs. 120 crore, a fraction of the cost of B737-800.

Lahore airport has ILS Category II, enabling aircraft equipped with required instrumentation and auto land capability to land with RVR of 350 meters. PIA’s induction of latest technology aircraft, B777, A320, etc., equipped with auto land facility becomes redundant if the aircraft cannot depart or land from the country’s major airport at Lahore. Almost 79 per cent of aviation traffic in Pakistan originates from northern hubs.

Following the opening of more direct routes overflying former Soviet Union airspace, all international traffic from South Asia, Australia, etc., tend to use this more economical and shorter route overflying Pakistan’s northern airspace.

The ILS Category III system requires an advanced signalling system with more lights on, and near, runway and taxiways, an upgraded Ground Movement Guidance (GMG) system, than current ILS category II systems on Runway 36 R, which spans a length of 10,000 feet at Lahore. This will involve provision of runway centre line lights with gaps of 7.5 meters, from current 30 meters, on active runway and taxiways, guiding aircraft to designated parking bays and two units of signalling instrument called Runway Visual Range Transmissometer, without disrupting current flight operations at peak hours. Updated localizer system antennas installed on opposite sides of approach direction provide horizontal guidance, while glide slope antennas located within 750 to 1250 feet from the beginning of approach end displaced from its axis by 400 to 600 feet, offer vertical guidance. The ILSIII C system offers landing in zero visibility.

The only impediment to future upgrading of existing airports is if the area in its vicinity is not under its jurisdiction. When Narita Airport was built to cater for expanding international flights for Tokyo, numerous villages were acquired for miles around, unlike Pakistan, where housing societies that never existed, mushroomed near an airport.

CAA  Pakistan is one of the most profitable state owned enterprises, with billions of rupees generated from taxes levied on passenger and cargo, along with landing charges, parking fee, etc., and for services such as provision of navigational facilities for flights both landing or overflying Pakistan airspace. Its primary function is that of a regulatory body, acting on behalf of the ICAO, to ensure that airline operators, their flight and maintenance crew licensing, ground and cargo handling agencies, and airports designated for commercial aviation operation, are monitored to comply with laid down international standards for flight safety.

FAA regulations require regulator to have trained, skilled and experienced professionals serving as inspectors, with no conflict of interest, receiving no benefits from airlines that are under their regulatory control to ensure strict compliance, and levy penalties on any operator or staff employed by them as deterrence.

CAA’s regulatory functions have been compromised because of commercial profits and conflicts of interest of top executive’s corporate interests and that of concerned ministry. Its policies and functions are moulded by private airlines and ground/cargo handling agencies, instead of CAA regulating them. It was expected that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would make structural changes, providing professional management on merit with integrity, following the decision to create a separate ministry of aviation, with a powerful independent regulatory CAA to enforce flight safety ensuring revenue paying passengers of quality service. Instead, he chose to appoint a controversial person, who was court marshalled from PAF, owns a ground-handling agency, and is a beneficiary of sub-contract for construction of the new Islamabad Airport.

CAA is required to not only regulate airlines, but also airports, navigation aid facility providers, ground/cargo handling agencies, licensing of flight and technical crew and their medical fitness surveillance, check for provision of emergency equipment on board aircrafts, and availability of fire fighting and other emergency equipments such as hydraulic systems for ballooning aircrafts which have crashed or collapsed on runways and taxiways on 24/7 basis.

The problem with CAA Pakistan is that all of them come under administrative control of DG CAA and hence the conflict of interest. It is because of this that credible accident investigation has never been conducted for numerous major fatal air crashes or accidents within our airspace.

The ripple impact of fog-induced delays disrupted schedules at Lahore airport, which were further aggravated by mismanagement of PIA, private airlines and CAA itself. Disruption of flights from Karachi and Islamabad cannot be blamed on Lahore fog; neither can the complete disarray in international and domestic operation that has haunted passengers for the past three years, nor the pilferage of revenues and fleecing of pilgrims by the nexus of corrupt marketing executives in connivance with few travel agents.

On 30 December, Lahore airport already congested after its master plan was slashed during the Musharraf tenure, restricting space for international departure, arrival and transit lounges. It was clogged and overcrowded by passengers of numerous flights trying to catch flights delayed for days after a respite in fog. A Shaheen airline flight coming from Karachi suffered a metal fatigue failure when its landing beam and strut ruptured while landing at Lahore’s primary runway 36 Right installed with ILS Category II and a length of 10,000 feet.

Question arises why an aged B737-300 was given permission by CAA in violation of the National Aviation Policy, which restricts age of induction of fleet for grant of AOC and registration of aircraft. Within hours, a PIA flight PK 758, operated by B777, while landing on secondary runway with a length of 9,000 feet, touched down far off beginning of runway, which in spite of maximum braking resulted in nose wheel touching end of active runway, making it difficult for aircraft to turn around on its own. The B777 recommended minimum runway length is 7,500 with capability to come to stop with maximum landing weight within 5,700 feet approximately.

PIA, the national flag carrier, suffering from the mediocrity and incompetence of successive managements had been enduring schedule disruptions ever since former DMD AVM Niaz decided to cancel procurement contracts for essential technical spares from a variety of manufacturer recommended vendors to a single vendor located in remote part of UK. This led to a rise in technical delays, due to non-availability of spares, culminating in the imposition of partial ban by European Union in 2007.

Reports about fires erupting in the brakes of a brand new B777 on landing during 2005 -2006 in Europe were investigated by a manufacturer, only to discover that the grease being used was substandard, not capable to withstand the high temperatures of friction generated by braking.

Even the imposition of ban and warning of surveillance after it was lifted, did not deter the PPP government from appointing a crony pilot on the payroll of PIA as DG CAA between 2008 to 2012, and later as MD PIA, replacing another crony who had been found guilty of gross financial indiscipline in pilot recruitment by a committee appointed by Ministry of Defence, headed by AVM Mushaf Ali Mir.

Under MD Capt Nadeem Yusafzai PIA again cancelled the spare parts procurement from a variety of vendors located along its route to a single unknown vendor located in Dubai, which resulted in half the fleet being grounded and a massive increase in maintenance cost.  Such blatant conflicts of interest damaged CAA’s regulatory capacity and credibility. So acute was the situation that it was discovered in 2011-2012 that numerous flights of non-scheduled and private airlines landing at Karachi were not documented and landing/parking fee amounting to billions was pocketed by corrupt Karachi airport CAA executives under the very nose of DG CAA who sits there. There is no record of load and cargo manifest of these flights, compromising national security in a country facing terrorism.


– The writer is an aviation expert



  1. Excellent portrayal of the mess created by cronyism in CAA and PIA, which has money to hire irrelevant executives in already top heavy management, but not install ILS 3 B at Lahore.


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