Delhi's smog-fighting helicopters can't fly – because of smog
An ambitious plan to use helicopters to fight Delhi’s air pollution has been grounded – because the aircraft cannot operate in such thick smog.
The Delhi government had engaged a state-owned helicopter company to formulate a plan to use the aircraft to sprinkle water over the city.
It was hoped the water would help to settle the thick haze of pollutants that has engulfed the Indian capital in the last week, triggering what doctors have called a “public health emergency”.
But that plan hit a bump on Monday, when city administrators were told the choppers would be unable to help dissipate the smog until the smog itself cleared.
“Right now, with the prevailing smog, it is not possible for the helicopters to carry out operations,” the chairman and managing director of the company, BP Sharma, told the Indian Express.
“We have communicated the same to the Delhi government. There was a meeting regarding this on Monday.”
The other hitch is that many parts of Delhi – particularly its southern quarters where parliament, the presidency and the prime minister are all based – are within a strictly policed no-fly zone.
A spokesman for the city government could not be reached but told the Indian Express: “There are a few issues and these will be worked out while creating the [standard operating procedure]. All stakeholders are being consulted.”
A 2015 study found that 52% of the particulate matter in the city’s air was from dust kicked up by the tens of thousands of cars that ply its roads. Uncovered sand and soil from construction sites also contribute to the choking atmosphere. But experts have questioned whether spraying water can make a difference.
In the last week, massive crop burning in neighbouring states and slow winds have also been a factor in sending air pollution levels in parts of north India to more than 30 times World Health Organisation standards for daily exposure.
A lasting solution would require a nationally co-ordinated response across several north Indian states, but the central government has so far been reluctant to take control of the problem.
A man runs across an expressway cloaked in smog near Delhi. Photograph: Cathal Mcnaughton/Reuters