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Bid to replace India-made equipment at airports with imported ones

September 27, 2019

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Bid to replace India-made equipment at airports with imported ones

New Delhi: Drishti, an equipment developed in India that helps pilots in landing and take-off at city airports, is reportedly being scrapped by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) to pave the way for an imported and costlier weather monitoring system. 

Drishti is a visual range equipment installed at 21 airports across the country and has won more than 10 national awards for its performance even in the worst of conditions. However, the IMD is now contemplating the idea of replacing it with imported systems, which cost thrice as much. Presently, out of the 101 Drishti systems operational in the country, 47 are installed at 21 international airports and 54 at 18 Indian Air Force airstrips. 

In 2014, the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) signed an agreement with the IMD for providing the visibility measuring system. Developed for Rs18 lakh, Drishti can provide visibility at a distance less than 20 metres and more than 2,000 metres, informed a senior IMD official on the condition of anonymity.

After Drishti gained footage in the country, proposals were floated to take the systems to airports abroad. However, the officials at the IMD have taken a U-turn and are keen to bring a matching visual aid developed by Vaisala from Finland at an estimated cost of Rs70 lakh. 

A committee headed by former Director General (DG) Dr Ajit Tyagi has already been put in place for purchases worth Rs100 crore. Dr Tyagi heads the request for proposal committee that is planning to import the system. 

Below par
Dr Tyagi told 101Reporters that while Drishti is a good system, upgradation has to take place as the systems that are in place at Indian airports are not on par with others in the world. 

He added that the committee is proposing to go systematically across airports to manage the growing volume of traffic. “We falter in becoming world-class if we are not approaching a commercial entity to get these systems. Our scientists don’t move beyond a certain level in developing indigenous systems. We are looking at procuring new systems over the next two to three years,” he added.

The PMO had issued a notice to all government offices in January 2019, stating that if there is an indigenous product in India, no specification should be put up seeking a matching a requirement with imported system.

A senior official of the New Delhi airport, on the condition of anonymity, stated that the tenders are planned to be floated in a way that only foreign companies can win the bid. The official also stated that the officials are also importing a ‘forward scatter meter’ and claimed that it won’t work in Indian conditions.

According to a senior ministry official, 60 runway visual range systems (equivalent to Drishti) worth Rs1 crore each, 76 current weather instruments for Rs20-22 lakh each, 60 forward scatter meters for dense fog and snow for Rs20-22 lakh each and 17 wind profilers at Rs30-35 lakh each are being procured, for which proposals have been floated by the Ministry of Earth Sciences.

No cost
A senior Jet Airways operations official said Drishti has been working for the last eight years with nearly no maintenance and zero expenditure on repairs. 

He highlighted that the system measures all weather parameters like wind speed, wind direction, temperature, air pressure, humidity, dew point, visibility required for air operations with aid of an weather-monitoring system developed by NAL. 

“The number of flights being cancelled due to bad weather or low visibility has come down drastically even at our busiest airports,” he added.

As per a feedback letter in 2015 by Prabhakara Rao, CEO of the GMR group, “Two years ago, we installed Drishti on our main runway to replace the old Flamingo systems. Till date, there have been no failures of these systems under the most trying circumstances of low visibility conditions. It is a true Make-in-India product.”

Dr KJ Ramesh, former DG of IMD, highlighted that Drishti is an excellent product for runway visibility measurement. A similar system need not be imported at all, he opined. 

He pointed out that there is no policy decision to replace Drishti so far while plans are on to procure other observation systems that help safer take-off and landings. He added that importing an integrated system is not feasible as the systems have to be integrated locally once they are brought through a local IT solutions provider.

Dr Sekhar Mandey, DG of CSIR, told 101Reporters, “Drishti is a globally benchmarked and extremely good product. I am not aware of any plans to scrap it.”