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Wednesday, 9 October 2019

NATS to DATS

It stood tall, relentless as we stared awe struck ,sinking in its enormity . We, as in around twenty of us on our first day at IGI Airport in a foggy wintry morning in the NATS complex! The ATC tower was nothing 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 really 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 CATC but the sheer magnificence of the structure blew the arrogance out of the super smart among us even! 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, technology all rolled into wonder and it did take time to sink in actually the planes listened to us! Years later I remember overhearing my juniors, actually one explaining another pointing to a jumbo waiting in a taxi track intersection...” Dekh bhai a rickshaw won’t stop in your mohalla no matter how you scream, here ek awaz doge, jumbo ruk  padega.” I smiled in my chair, 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 mesh 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. Tower position was a dreaded one with continuous arrival departures in a single runway and the quickening of heartbeat as an aircraft taking a tad longer to roll, arrival approaching and all so neatly visible most of the times. With the radar screen as aid, with various figures in display , controller making his decisions and sometimes the one and a half hour slot passed in a jiffy. Low cost airlines were mushrooming at that time, 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 , read ‘ Cleared for take off’ , wait with bated breath till the aircraft is airborne and  assuring the arriving aircraft runway will be vacant till she reaches final all the while...some conviction it requires really! Surface movement radar was not commissioned initially and the great foggy days of Delhi were dealt with much difficulty and the total chaos once the fog lifts with all airlines jostling for sequence! Remember one pilot shooting at me , ‘ Madam, are you allowing me to leave Delhi or not today!!’  Glad he imagined Madam was bestowed with so much brains and brawn!

With privatisation of the airport , like magic ,taxiways, new bays and an entire new runway sprung out of nowhere and we were floundering 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) the crafting of a new state of the art airport ,this tower witnessed it all. Change was so drastic and so overwhelming and so frequent that we stopped being perplexed and bowed down. Not that we had much of an option ! From the soft blue taxiway lights at lazy nights, mainly catering to few international departures and arrivals it turned into a busy airport with all the hustle bustle all 24/7 now with all sorts of lightings available , catering up to CAT III B arrivals ( RVR upto 50 metres) and LVTO departures. The number of movements increased drastically with many low cost carriers plunging into the field and aviation industry saw a major  boom. The figures kept soaring, and the new runway south of airfield was constructed as if with a magic wand, to cater to the ever growing demand of flights ,to feed the hungry giant of development. Our tower witnessed in awe the new runway and the total 360 degree occupancy of controllers, more and more complicated taxiways and more SOP s to cope with it all! We were growing and how! Like all things that grow and flourish, the growth itself gets so gigantic, it  consumes the agents which were the harbingers of change as a minuscule part of the system. 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.

We began working with Auto Track1, 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, slick, gigantic new tower (DATS) and this new tower had a new automation system  just to make our life a tad more tough, as if the ensuing change was not enough!  We huffed and puffed and are still struggling to manage the entire traffic, to come to terms with this paradigm shift. The work we performed all these years suddenly threw more challenges and we are fighting as a team to achieve what we are supposed to.

 ' The old order changeth yielding place to the new!' Lord Tennyson could foresee it a century earlier so we just need to follow suit.  On being asked by our GM , 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. Our 'old' workplace and consoles are deserted now, that which used to be the heart and soul of Delhi ATC lies barren, untouched, uncared for. Seniors fondly recall the old tower which was operational from 1999 (NATS ) and what a shifting it had been twenty years ago! 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 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 its international counterparts.

 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 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!!


Time to bid goodbye, to the place of work and worship with lots of memories, lots of love and tighten the seat belt for a tough road ahead. Shed off doubts and apprehensions and plunge in, like we always had and ensure perfect  controlling in DATS. The Delhi ATC fraternity will wade through this tough time  and emerge again confident, passionate and with a zeal to achieve more. Just a matter of time. With hopes high, aspirations galore, targeting high numbers as much as 1500 daily by next year, leap in hourly movements as well, we would be and still are 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 organization we work for.

Till then from DATS to NATS... Goodbye...time to let go!

Friday, 19 October 2018

Go Greece!




Our second trip together! Sometimes people get together when they have a strong common passion..travelling in our case. Me being the lazy one and my friend the hyper active one , she did all the research and I sailed along.

Why Greece! For me basically the pictures shared by a travel blogger... the bougainvillea, white buildings and the blue sea.

Day 1

My first tryst with Europe when we landed in Athens! The BnB in the heart of the city was just warm enough for us as we stepped outside the next day after a huge sandwich ( which we saved for the later part of the day) and nice hot coffee. We roamed and wandered and looked out for Greek Gods! Well they appeared in the form of uniformed guards , so close to our hotel where crowd had gathered to watch some march past.

' Let's ask them, what's going on!' I was at my flirtatious best.

' Guard of honour!'  came the stern reply.

' Oh ok, and what is that building!'

' Parliament'

 Oh really, two novices in the middle of Santigma Square looking  for Greek Gods and stumbling  upon Parliament.



Acropolis was our next stop, as we racked our brains about how many Euros to spare for a bus ride and once we were on the bus had no such intention of getting down in the sun. Finally Acropolis it was, after almost one round in the bus.





The Parthenon

The queues could be taxing if one does not select the right time to enter.


Post lunch we took a peak in ancient Olympic stadium.



Then some pics in the classical buildings we loved the look of, and finally we parted from the bus , I guess did full justice to the Euros we spent! Oh yes pick pockets do roam  about near the parliament area and we were not spared as well, we did not lose anything luckily as alarm was raised by a local tourist guide.





The National Library, University and Museum... I remembered Shahrukh Khan  Rani Mukherjee dancing around those buildings!! 

Day 2   We had a booking in Blue Star Ferry, and set for the port in early morning.  The first glimpse of the blue Aegean sea took my breath away and I knew my trip was worth and gave me much more than I expected. 







Mykonos was a lovely little island and our hotel was all white as was all of the town ( they paint once a  year as I enquired from our hotel attendant. We wandered through the lanes of Little Venice , watched the sunset.. though was a bit disappointed with the hazy colour of sea... well that's not what we watched in movies and that's not why we came from India.










Tried chicken Souvlaki

In full breezy mood we wandered through the lovely lanes of little Venice and... got lost! No way we were able to reach the main road, we tried the bus stand which did not seem to be the one we were looking for! We started walking though we were warned by our handsome hotel manager not to walk while returning as the road was uphill! Well we did just that, got lost and with GPS we stumbled and limped with our tired limbs at around ten at night which I believe I would never do in Gurgaon! It was a bit eerie, walking through almost deserted streets, some whistles from racing bikes but somehow we knew this is not our country and hence safer! The handsome manager ( quite close to Greek God) was full of sympathy as we almost slumped on his hotel culvert, fumbling for keys , his sympathy lifted our spirits up somewhat!

Day 3

We welcomed a bright sunny morning with clear sky and a nice breakfast.  Still not decided what to do exactly with the day, we walked up to the city, trying to keep track of the road. 






Some wild chase for a pic with bougainvillea , as the pic posted by a travel blogger with white buildings and bougainvillea was a real motivation for me for reasons unknown and hardly left any bougainvillea plant without a pic!


With the clear sky,  there was the blue sea.






Visit to the Paradise Beach was what we had next in line and well ...being in a nude beach did take  words off us for sometimes!! The shock wore off and we sat there and stared all around silly, we weren't swimmers and we didn't know what we were doing there! Being charged 10 Euros for sitting there did not help either and after that we two brave hearts did not have courage left for Super Paradise beach! 'Well if this was Paradise', my hubby had said later looking at the pics ' I will go and visit only the Super Paradise!'



Rice stuffed inside tomato , typical Greek dish I had in lunch and must say it was spicy and tangy, though oil was dripping along.

Next was Delos Island , spectacular view, historical remains and the most amazing colours of sky I ever saw during sun set.













Day 4

Fast ferry carried us to Santorini , after waiting for around two hours in the sun. Ferries were well behind their schedule and faced huge waiting before deboarding as well, might be because no bay was available and then another traffic snarl in the narrow hilly roads, almost felt like it was our country. The worst part we dragged our luggage from the bus stop in Fira to the hotel nearby and thereafter to first floor. We slumped on the bed after that, ordered some pastas on phone and dozed off. 





A long walk to an Indian restaurant cheered my vegetarian friend up and after a long calculation and some morale boosting from husband over phone I ordered a cup of tea, most expensive I ever had of course!  And yes there was some brawl over Dal Makhni in the restaurant where the owner was screaming to explain ' There is nothing available here, my groceries come from Pakistan, no chilies available , I have planted trees! Nobody opened an Indian restaurant in fifty years!' 
I will admit I enjoyed the desi meal as well, much I would like to believe I didn't. 





Day 5

Next day we got tickets for a day trip to Volcano Island, and walked terrible stairs to the old port where the mules would block half of the road! Sea was beautiful and so was the town of Fira from the port. The road to the port was ancient, I guess added to the charm of the place as I fondly recall now and rightly called the mule track.







All the blue domes and white churches in Oia were what drew me to Greece, the Bollywood songs I watched, the travel blogs I read.




Sunset in Oia was not as amazing as I heard , but beautiful none the less.



Day 6

Thanks to my travel freak friend , last day I had the most magnificent views of the trip. The little   Red , Black and White beaches were hidden gems out of the world and people lazing over in the little stretch of land with nothing in the horizon apart from occasional boats... ah straight out of fantasy.






We flew from Santorini to Athens , then Delhi via Dubai.  As I relive the trip again, somehow I see a twenty five year old gazing with curiosity in the world full of mischief and fun and not the forty year woman I know! But then this twenty five year old is inside my forty year  frame only and she leaped with joy at the little wonders she felt in another part of the world!


I came with lots of anecdotes, stories for my little daughter, for my well traveled spouse and for lot many friends who has an wanderlust inside.