“It’s time to bid farewell to the beloved NATS Tower and look forward to what the new ATC Tower has to offer”
It stood tall, relentless as we stared awe struck, sinking in its enormity. Around twenty one of us were present on our first day at Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport in the NATS complex. The ATC tower was not like anything we had set our eyes on before, for most of us who came from different corners of the country and all small towners!
We stepped in with lots of pride, awe and a mixed bag of feelings as one ponders a decade after. By this time we had a fairly good idea of what our job was going to be like after rigorous grilling sessions of six months in C-ATC but the sheer magnificence of the structure blew the arrogance out of the super smart among us. For most of us seeing an airplane this close was something we never imagined we would be doing on a regular basis. Each departure and arrival was a manoeuvre of grace and technology all rolled into wonder and it did take time to sink in that the planes actually listened to us! I smiled in my chair as that was some synopsis of our job and funny it may sound, actually holds true. Each word counts and counts dearly.
Before around fifteen years, when I joined Delhi Airport, it was not such a complex web of taxiways and terminal buildings. Things were much simpler with one domestic and one international terminal and few taxiways connecting the main runway on domestic and international side. The quickening of heartbeat as an aircraft took a tad longer to roll, or as it approached for arrival was clearly visible most of the times. With the radar screen as an aid, and various figures in display, controller making his decisions and with various such activities, sometimes that one and a half hour slot passed in a jiffy. Low cost airlines were mushrooming at that time with Air Deccan leading the band and traffic density gradually burgeoning. The single runway was unable to sustain the increasing load, and using existing converging secondary runway did not help much either. We were at the edge of our seats most of the time, waiting for the tail of arrival to steer clear of runway,with bated breath till the aircraft was airborne, assuring the arriving aircraft runway was vacant till she finally reached.
“With new radars installed, the entire system performed seamlessly and IGI was the airport yielding maximum daily and hourly movements”
With time, like magic, taxiways, new bays and an entire new runway floundered, coping up with the changes and procedures induced by these rapid construction everywhere. The entire new group of bays, terminals and the slick swanky T3 (functional in 2010), crafting of a new state-of-the-art airport, this tower witnessed it all. Change was so substantial and overwhelming that we stopped being perplexed and bowed down. From the soft blue taxiway lights at nights, mainly catering to few international departures and arrivals, it turned into a busy airport with all sorts of lightings available, catering up to CAT III B arrivals ( RVR up to 50 metres) and LVTO departures. The number of movements increased considerably with many low cost carriers plunging into the field. Aviation industry saw a major boom and the new runway, south of airfield was constructed, as if with a magic wand to cater to the ever growing demand of flights. Our tower witnessed in awe, the new runway and the total 360 degree occupancy of controllers, more and more complicated taxiways and more SOPs to cope with it all. We were growing. So with new bays, new terminals, the epitaph of this tower was gradually being coined with the rapid construction of the grand new tower, taller, mightier and in a few months seemed to stare down with amusement at its not-so-affluent counterpart.ATC controller in the new tower
We began working with Auto Track 1, the automation system functional at IGI, and then upgraded to its advanced versions AT 2 and 3. With new radars installed, the entire system performed seamlessly and IGI was the airport yielding maximum daily and hourly movements. We were having over 1300 movements per day, which by itself was an achievement. With all its glitches, the controllers, the system, the tower all worked in unison with a common goal and the output inspired to achieve more. But as they say nothing is more permanent than change. We were ushered into the tall, gigantic new tower (DATS) and this new tower had a new automation system just to make our life a tad tougher. The work we performed all these years suddenly threw more challenges and we fought as a team to achieve what we were supposed to.
As Lord Tennyson said, ‘The old order changeth yielding place to the new.’ What he could foresee a century ago,”The Delhi ATC fraternity will emerge confident and passionate with a zeal to achieve more” we just needed to follow it. On being asked by our GM sir, I said ‘ Sir we are trying to adjust our eyes in the new radar screen’, ‘Yes’ he had nodded, ‘ Fifteen years of habit won’t wane off in a day’. Indeed it won’t. Seniors fondly recall the old tower, which was operational from 1999 (NATS). The shift from procedural to radar environment, secondary radar firming its foothold over primary, the feeling of practically seeing each aircraft as a firm beep in radar screen, the controlling, all took a massive leap from conjuring images in the head to blatantly reacting to things visible clearly with the minute details. Delhi ATC was almost at par with international counterparts.Interiors of 101.9 mtrs. high ATC Tower
The NATS tower is etched in our heart and soul, the nooks and corners, the roof just beneath the tower area, where I had quietly watched many take offs and landings. Me and my friend had sneaked in to the roof to watch the Air Force One land in a misty morning and had waved to former United States President Barrack Obama silently. Saw the first Airbus 380 land , witnessed so many storms , spent nights controlling and in the initial younger days, someone told me some prince landed from some middle east country, I had stretched my eyes for a glimpse, well, prince, really!!
Now it is time to bid goodbye to the place of work and worship with lots of memories, lots of love and to tighten the seat belt for a tough road ahead. It is time to shed off doubts and apprehensions and take control like we always have and ensure perfect controlling in DATS. The Delhi ATC fraternity will emerge confident and passionate with a zeal to achieve more.
Decorated ATC Tower during the inauguration
With our hopes high, aspirations galore, we move one step close to our aim to leap in hourly movements and achieve numbers as much as 1500 daily by next year. We are and would be a force within ourselves, striving for excellence and committed whole heartedly to assure the safety and security of the aircraft we provide service to and an asset to the organisation we work for.