At last count, nearly one in five air traffic controllers at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport – the largest in the country – was out of service, directly or indirectly affected by Covid-19. Officials at POSOCO – the operator of the Indian electricity grid – have alluded to a “worrying shortage” of operators, including those who occupy certain control rooms. These are some of the critical infrastructure operations that could potentially be threatened by the second push the country is witnessing.
According to data from the Ministry of Health, Sunday morning there were 33.49,644 active Covid cases in India, an increase of 80,934 from the previous day.
A senior officer involved with POSOCO said there was a “worrying shortage” of operators, adding that a similar shortage of trained and experienced power plant control rooms was also cited, with the infection spreading. at the community level resulting in whole lots or forced teams. quarantine if any of them, or their family members, are infected. “Most of them are involved in operations that cannot be managed outside of the control room, regardless of the training of the personnel,” the officer said.
“There are very few reserves, as a shift of 10 may only have a small number of reserves. With entire shifts at one time, there is a problem. The situation is managed for now, but there is a concern, ”said the officer. This is all the more worrying given that in a number of states, electricity grid operators operate an electricity grid with an increasing share of renewable energies, thus increasing the level of supervision required on a daily basis.
In response to a series of questions from the Indian Express, a spokesperson for the Airports Authority of India (AAI) said that 85 of the 402 air traffic control officers (ATCOs) at the airport in Delhi were either positive for Covid-19 themselves, including asymptomatic, or an affected immediate family member. In addition, 16 of the 112 ATCOs at Ahmedabad airport were also affected. Air traffic controls across the country, including at privatized airports, are managed by AAI.
“While there are rules limiting the number of hours each controller can be in service, there is definitely an additional workload. At Delhi ATC, we have closed 1 or 2 channels to manage the shifts. At one point there were even discussions about calling those service people who themselves did not have Covid but someone in their family did. But there was opposition to this plan, and eventually he was shot, ”a source told Delhi ATC.
A senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, played down concerns about disruptions to ATC operations stemming from the increase in the number of cases, currently saying: “We only operate 30-40% of our capacity ”.
Acknowledging the threat to frontline crews in the aeronautics industry, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), in a decree of April 27, noted “in view of the growing number of Covid19 cases, the DGCA reviewed the conduct of the BA test for all aeronautical personnel ”. For ATC operators, the aviation safety watchdog has commissioned a random breathalyzer test before the start of service at each station on a daily basis.
In addition, in a letter written to the chief secretaries of all states on the same day, Tuhin Kanta Pandey, secretary of civil aviation (additional charge) wrote: “It is understandable that the crew, engineers, controllers aircraft, technicians, ground personnel and frontline aviation workers are exposed to significant risks in the performance of their duties ”. “To ensure that the sector continues to provide essential services to the nation, it is imperative that the aviation workforce is covered as a priority in the vaccination program,” he added.
In the response, the IAA spokesperson also said: “The whole country is facing a difficult situation due to the current sudden rise in Covid-19 cases across the country. However, by drawing lessons from the past experience of 1st Wave Covid, AAI is fully prepared to ensure the continuity of air traffic operations by strictly following the Covid protocol, disinfection of ATC units, vaccination of ATCOs and maintenance of additional ATC manpower on standby to respond to any immediate operational operations. requirement. We are confident that our airport operations will continue to run smoothly ”.