I N Murthy, Member (Operations), AAI

The Operational Successes of AAI

Interview

January 16, 2018

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I N Murthy, Member (Operations), AAI

I N Murthy, Member (Operations), AAI

The AAI has made tremendous progress in making sure that each and every aspect of the airports is managed and operated to the best of its capacity – from safety and security to ease of access for the passengers – AAI has plans and initiatives in place to ensure operational success at each level.

You took over as Member-Operations at AAI in December 2016. What are the new policy initiatives taken by you since?

Evaluating existing policies along with subsequent amendment and new policy initiatives are a continuous phenomenon in any organisation. Several such policy initiatives and standardisation of procedures have been taken up by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) in the last one year. Information Security Management Systems (ISMS) policy, Information Technology (IT) procurement systems and services policy, cyber security framework, procedures under IT Apex Policy, policy on engaging technology start-up firms, night parking policy, and engaging Mechanised Environment Support Services (MESS) on Quality & Cost Based Selection (QCBS) for up-keep of airports – these are some key initiatives undertaken in the last one year. Along with these, significant contribution has been made through the directorates functioning under me in taking forward the flagship initiatives of Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) like the Digi-Yatra Policy for seamless passenger processing through terminals from entry point to the boarding gates, Ground Handling Regulation-2017, Regional Connectivity Scheme, etc.

Air-Sewa version 1.0, which is a portal and mobile application providing information to passengers about the current status of flights, airport information and services, grievance redressal and reporting, was implemented and development of version 2.0 is in progress.

India is rapidly modernising its airports. How do you manage the twin challenges of air safety and security?

Air safety and security are two most essential pillars of aviation today and at AAI they are given paramount importance. AAI relentlessly strives to provide a safe, secure and seamless travel experience to the ultimate stakeholder – the air passenger. The same is embedded in the mission statement of AAI. The procedures and systems are in place to achieve utmost safety of operations at airports and delegated airspace to achieve full proof security at airport terminals through implementation of all essential and established global norms along with standards and recommended practices of ICAO. Related national level standards, recommendations and regulations put forth by DGCA and BCAS have also been implemented. For achieving these safety norms, periodic safety evaluation is carried out at AAI airports through a separate Air Safety Directorate functioning in AAI, which reports directly to the Chairman. Regular safety audits are being conducted at airports and Directorate of Operations in coordination with other associated Directorates takes necessary actions to ensure air safety in operational area as well as in air. Temporary exemptions are taken from the regulator with proper safety assessment and mitigation plan of identified hazards for certain safety standards that cannot be implemented due to land or resource constraints indicating the action plans with time lines. On account of stringent safety norms, air travel is considered as the most reliable and safe mode of transport in the world, which applies to India as well.

The security infrastructure at airports is continuously upgraded incompliance with the norms as per the Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPS) laid down in Annex-17 of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is the mother document for aviation security. Keeping in mind the different threat perceptions and inputs by different government agencies, proactive steps are regularly taken at AAI.

How has the issue of safety and security become a challenge and an opportunity in light of the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS)?

The RCS is a unique feature initiated by the Government of India in the National Civil Aviation Policy (NCAP) 2016, to facilitate every common man of this country to travel by air. Apart from some AAI airports coming under the RCS, the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) has also mandated AAI to act as a nodal organisation to support other airports for making them operational. Since unserved airports were lying idle for a long period, the safety and security infrastructure deficiencies were prime challenges for making these airports operational. As per regulation framed by MoCA, these airports have to be provided with security infrastructure, APSU trained manpower by state government and other administrative support to get it operational.

These actions need to be completed within a very short span of time. As mandated by MoCA, the basic infrastructure, and security and safety equipments are provided by AAI, utilising the funds allocated for this purpose along with training of personnel at AAI training facilities. Further, AAI is also handholding the airports designated for RCS operations belonging to state governments, PSUs and private/public enterprises for obtaining security clearance, conversion of licence of airport from private use to public use, etc. For this purpose of handholding and supervision of RCS airports, mentor airports of AAI were designated with clear mandates to those Airport Directors and for overseeing the preparations to Regional Executive Directors. The mandatory infrastructure was developed in a very short period to get the airport licensed for inauguration of commercial RCS flights. We have taken all these targets and challenges as an opportunity to prove our competence and professionalism in the aviation sector.

What are the technological and digital interventions planned to secure India’s airports and skies?

Technological advancement and installation of digital equipments always proved to be effective tools for enhancing the security systems at any infrastructure and that includes the aviation sector also. Apart from routine installations, AAI is in the process of installing required infrastructure at different airports for biometric entry passes, dispensing with stamping of hand baggage tags towards tag-less hand baggage at 53 airports of AAI, automatic tray retrieval systems for hand baggage XBIS systems at select five major airports, in-line X-Ray Baggage Inspection System (XBIS) at nine AAI airports, etc. In principle approval has already been in place to set a system in airports to avoid the physical frisking process of passengers by security personnel. The proposal for installation of full body scanners at major airports is under examination.

Apart from the above, AAI is also procuring sophisticated safety and rescue equipment such as Airport Crash Fire Tenders (ACFT), Emergency Rescue Staircase, six stretcher ambulances, etc., for enhancing the safety of aircraft operations and saving of valuable lives in the event of an incident. Already 50 ACFTs were procured and commissioned and 31 Rapid Intervention Vehicles (RIV) are under final phase of procurement.

Similarly, AAI has also established Airport Operations Control Centre (AOCC), which will be a nerve centre for all airport operations, with associated Airport Operations Data Base (AODB) at top 10 airports with main data centre at Chennai for monitoring all the operations and collaborative decision with participation of all stakeholders. Further, the installation of AOCC is being carried out at two more major airports of AAI at Goa and Lucknow.

Also, AAI is procuring additional passenger processing systems comprising 160 Common User Terminal Equipment (CUTE), 200 Common User Self Service (CUSS) kiosks, 1,000 scanners for checkin-counters, etc., and corresponding Counter Information Display Systems (CIDS) are to be installed shortly to ease the congestion in terminal buildings at the same time enabling efficient and secure passenger processing.

The most important contribution of AAI towards optimising airport operations resulting in saving billions of dollars and the ecology by sharply reducing aircraft fuel burn is the installation of sophisticated Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM). The AFTM is a country-wide system to manage flow of air traffic with the implementation of phase-I in six metro airports, in conjunction with Flow Management Positions (FMP) established at 22 other airports. The phase-II will be rolled for other capacity constrained airports after completion of phase-I.

Similarly, AAI will be implementing Digi-Yatra solution starting with major AAI airports, which is a digital initiative by Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) to provide seamless passenger processing at airport with enhanced security using biometric/Aadhaar identity, 2D Bar Coded Boarding Cards and e-gates, for which the policy document is at an advanced stage of finalisation. The system provides ease for the passenger to pass through various check points without the hassle of presenting ticket or other identity while ensuring a foolproof security as the passenger is identified through biometrics at every stage and enables the security agencies and airlines to know the location of passenger in real-time.

How do you plan to upgrade airports as it involves a huge capital investment?

Upgradation of airports is a continuous process and it is primarily taken up by Directorate of Planning in coordination with Directorate of Operations, ANS Directorate and in consultation with all the stakeholders. As upgradation of airports involves huge capital investments, AAI takes into consideration the projected air traffic growth, passenger growth, aircraft acquisition plan of the airlines, requirement for night parking slots, as well as issues such as growth of allied business associated with aviation like cargo, tourist charters, etc. All these projections are then deliberated in-house with inputs from all stakeholders, including airline operators, cargo operators and handling agents, etc.

The airside and terminal capacity enhancement at 20 AAI airports, including Chennai and Kolkata, is being undertaken and plans are under finalisation.

What are your plans to optimise the runway operations at major airports?

For all major airports optimum use of runway and reduced Runway Occupancy Time (ROT) is a decisive factor for capacity enhancement. Wear and tear and degradation of runway surface due to high density of traffic and its proper maintenance is also a concern at major airports. The maintenance and up-keep of runway is very necessary for safe operation of flights. Since maintenance work of runway disrupts flight operations, so it is essential to consult airline operators and take them on board for finalising any schedule of maintenance of runway to minimise the disruption of flight and inconvenience to passengers.

After stakeholder consultation the closure timings are published well in advance for the schedule of runway maintenance or major runway repair/ restoration/rehabilitation works and as far as feasible, relocating the slots of affected flights to minimise the inconvenience to passengers. Care is being taken to do such works in phases at airports in northern region to ensure continuous availability of facilities during foggy season. To optimise the Runway Occupancy Time (ROT) necessary actions are taken through provision of parallel taxiways with associated additional link taxiways at major airports where number of movements are above 15 to 20 per hour. Also revised Standard Operating Procedures for faster vacation of runways are being formulated in consultation with the airlines. To support optimum use of runway and increase runway throughput with reduced ROT, the required Rapid Exit Taxiways (RETs) are being planned at Kolkata and Chennai to come up in the next one year and will further be taken up at other major airports. In order to improve operational availability at airports of AAI in the northern region during fog-prone winters, Cat-IIIB ILS has been installed and commissioned at Jaipur, Lucknow and Amritsar airports. Cat-IIIB ILS has been installed at Kolkata also and will be commissioned by January 4, 2018. Also, in order to improve the safety of aircraft operations with optimum runway friction levels through regular removal of rubber deposits, which is presently carried out through contract work, AAI is procuring 10 sophisticated Rubber Deposit Removal machines by next year along with an equal number of Runway Friction Testing machines.

How far do you think private players such as airlines should be actively involved in self-regulation?

Self-regulation of any stakeholder, including airlines, is certainly need of the hour for a sensitive sector like aviation which operates with zero tolerance. Monitoring and execution of every compliance is very difficult for the regulators. Self-regulation by airlines will enhance the safety and efficiency of flight operations with improved regularity and on time performance, which increases customer satisfaction. Several initiatives have been taken under the directive of MoCA and instructions of DGCA to introduce a culture of self-regulation by airlines that include adherence to slots, compliances of safety and security norms, ethical and healthy commercial practices, self-declaration of incidents and deficiencies etc. Similar self-regulation is also expected from all airport operators and other stakeholders such as ground handling agents, aviation fuel operators, cargo operators etc. Hence active involvement of airlines, airport operators and other stakeholders self-regulating themselves in line with best global practices will certainly bring laurels to the Indian aviation sector.

Recently International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) conducted an audit of India’s air safety readiness. Will India fare better this time compared to the 2012 audit?

An audit of India’s air safety parameters conducted by ICAO under Universal Safety Oversight Programme was conducted in November 2017 and was concluded with very encouraging remarks by ICAO on safety adherence and training of CNS and ATM personnel with related maintenance of documentation and other aspects. AAI has demonstrated better results in the safety audit compliance as prescribed by ICAO and has retained its highest rating.

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A record number of 422 air safety violations were detected in 2016 against 275 in 2015. What reforms is AAI undertaking to reduce these numbers?

The Indian aviation sector is growing on an average of 22 percent annually in respect of domestic and 8.5 percent international passenger growth and average 14.1 percent in terms of air traffic movements. It is among highest growth rate recorded with respect to world aviation growth resulting in terminal buildings, air side and airspace of airports being congested day by day with resultant increase of violations and incidents. The occurrence of incidents/ violations has two parts- one is violation in airspace and the other is ground incidents at airports. Necessary steps are being taken up by the Directorate of ATM to reduce the airspace safety violations. Directorate of Operations is responsible to take the effective measures to reduce the occurrence of safety violations on airside and it is pertinent to mention here that necessary proactive steps are continuously being taken to avoid such occurrence and learning from reasons figured out on investigation of incidents by DGCA.

Identification of hot-spots at airside, safety evaluation and audit of facilities are regularly taken up. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are in place with preventive measures and programmes to eliminate wildlife intrusion, reduce bird activity in operational area and vicinity of the airport. The measures taken also include sensitising localities surrounding airport with the help of municipal authorities, levelling-grading and upkeep of operational area as recommended by respective guiding documents. Mandatory development of Runway End Safety Area (RESA) at airports, mandatory instructions signage, installation of proper lighting and marking at airside are some but not exhaustive steps being taken up by Directorate of Operations to reduce the safety violations at airside. The new norms and SOPs to entrust the discipline at airside the required changes are also being done in the associated regulations. One step towards deterrence was increase of penalty applicable for violations from earlier INR 500 to a maximum INR 5000 with the approval of MoCA, apart from other preventive measures and sensitisation programmes regularly undertaken for ensuring airside discipline at airports.

Aviation security is of utmost importance. What are the various innovative measures the AAI is undertaking to secure safety at airports?

Full-proof infrastructure, security equipment and gadgets are installed at airports to meet the standards laid down by Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS), the regulatory authority for Civil Aviation Security. Aviation Security Group (ASG) of CISF is deployed at 53 airports besides 6 JV airports and APSU (State Police) is deployed at 39 operational airports. These security forces have been equipped with latest weapons, night vision equipment, bomb detection and disposal systems, dog squads, airport systems, bollards, tyre killers, CCTV surveillance cameras with centralised Security Operations Control Room (SOCC) etc. Proposals for suitable Perimeter Intrusion Detection System (PIDS) are under evaluation for implementation at AAI Airports in a phased manner. Similarly implementation of body scanners for pre-embarkation security check is also planned. AAI is part of the specialised cell of technical experts for aviation security constituted by BCAS which advises and recommends adoption of emerging technologies as well up gradation of existing equipment.

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