Flights operations at the Chennai airport were disrupted for nearly three hours on Wednesday as smog caused by ‘Bhogi’ fires burning across the city reduced visibility in the skies.

Airports Authority of India (AAI) officials said a total of 28 flights including a dozen flights on the arrival side were affected due to the problem, triggered by burning of waste in the city and its suburbs. Apart from this, authorities also diverted three flights in the international sector and two in the domestic sector to neighbouring airports.

AAI sources said the problem began around 6.30 am, when the visibility levels dropped below normal. Under normal conditions 800m visibility would be ideal for landing and take off of most of the aircraft. But, for the smaller jets the required visibility level should be 1,200m and above.

However, on Wednesday morning visibility level was only about 300m due to which no landing or take off could be allowed, resulting in the cancellation of operations. The problem persisted till 9.20 am.

Talking about the diversion of flights the AAI authorities said three flights in the international sector — that of Oman Air and Emirates — were diverted to Bangalore, while a Saudi Arabian airlines flight was diverted to Colombo. In the domestic sector two flights of Kingfisher, which came from Port Blair, and an Air Deccan cargo flight were also diverted to Bangalore.

Normalcy was restored in the airport around 9.20 am when the first flight took off from Chennai airport. On the arrival side the first flight landed at the airport around 9.10 am, said the officials.

A senior AAI officer said in the last couple of years burning of waste during ‘Bhogi’ day, the day before Pongal celebrations in the city and its suburbs was relatively less. “There was not much of smog in the last couple of years so we were not forced to divert the aircraft to other airports. But this year once again the burning of waste increased resulting in poor visibility," he said.