By next year at this time, it should be easier to land a plane in Bogotá. During a week that was beset by weather-related delays and cancellations, the national aviation regulator announced that the capital’s El Dorado International Airport will invest in new technology that will allow pilots to land in harsher conditions.
According to agency that regulates the industry, Aerocivil, El Dorado currently has installed what is called a category-two “Instrumental Landing System” (ILS) on its south runway, which allows landings even in minimal visibility. But the planned upgrade will elevate the airport to ILS category-three status, meaning that pilots will be able to land in Bogotá safely even if they can barely see the runway — or if they cannot see it at all, depending upon how advanced the new system becomes.
Aerocivil says that it will invest 7 billion pesos — roughly $2.3 million USD — to put a category-three system on its north runway. According to the U.S.-based Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there are three sub-classifications of available category-three ILS systems. Even the least-precise allows pilots to land as long as the runway is within visual range at 600 feet, while the best doesn’t require any human visual confirmation at all.
The north runway currently uses a ILS category-one system, which requires at least 1,200 feet and perhaps up to 2,600 feet of visibility. So after the higher-end technology is installed, El Dorado will be much better equipped to handle flights during the inclement weather that becomes even worse at this time of year.
Because Bogotá sits high in the Andes at 8,600 feet, the day-to-day weather doesn’t always reflect the capital’s latitude. But since it is tropical — just 315 miles north of the equator — Bogotá is hit by rainy season every year, and its altitude complicates matters further. The rains’ arrival has been notably volatile this year, with heavy thunderstorms and torrential downpours hitting regularly over the past month.
Last week was particularly bad, so much so that a fog-covered El Dorado was forced to shut down for at least two hours on Wednesday morning. Airports in Cartagena, Popayan, Bahia Solano, Corozal, and Guaymaral were also closed temporarily due to the rare weather event, while those in Cali, Cartago, and Quibdo were put on restricted operations, according to Aerocivil.
“The phenomenon that currently is occurring — and will continue until the end of January — is from a dense fog due to the season,” said Aerocivil in a statement. “The very high humidity and low temperatures form fog that hinders visibility for crews and aircraft.”
While even the most advanced ILS system cannot prevent all weather-related delays and cancelations, the category-three system that is expected to be in place next year at this time should minimize the number of fog-disrupted flights. The capital also faces a second rainy season that arrives in March and lasts until May. Aerocivil did not state whether the new system will be operational before that hits.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the category-two system currently installed. It was previously incorrectly called a category-one system. We regret the error.