Kathmandu, March 7
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, which claims it intends to comply with the stipulations of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, has apparently trashed ICAO’s consultancy report produced to select suitable technology to enhance air safety.
INECO, a consultancy firm under the controversial Air Transport Capacity Enhancement Project, had drafted the report after spending $4.2 million.
According to project officials, INECO was contracted without competitive bidding in 2010 for consultancy to recommend suitable technology for induction of suitable systems one for the surveillance of airspace and another for enabling instrument based landing that is still lacking, primarily due to terrain characteristics along the approach path to Tribhuvan International Airport from south.
The deficient report, according to a high-level official, was neither accepted nor rejected by the CAAN Board and contrary to standard procurement norms, full payment to the tune of several million rupees was released to the ICAO without any qualms.
The payment was released in haste to iron out possible kinks in relations with ICAO to ensure a smooth visit of the high-level CAAN delegation to Montreal under former director general TR Manandhar, a high level official at CAAN said.
Subsequently, ignoring the ICAO study, CAAN sought Japanese assistance under Japan International Cooperation Agency for radar equipment – one for installation on the top of Mt Bhattedanda, south of Kathmandu, where flight PK 268 crashed in 1992, killing 167.
The terrain around Bhattedanda is the prime obstacle that prevents a three-degree flight path angle approach slope necessary for an instrument landing system approach to TIA that could make the flight to Kathmandu less notorious, a senior Nepal Airlines captain explained.
ILS approaches, the world over, are considered pilot-friendly, as the automation on board allows the aircraft to accurately follow the ILS electronic guidance to touchdown.
Geography poses no obstacle for commercial aviation, as construction of Kansai and Chek Lap Kok (Hong Kong) Airports after reclaiming large swathes of land from the sea clearly show.
There is no reason why CAAN couldn’t have eventually paved the way for precision instrument landings at TIA – by gradually chipping away the rogue terrain obstacles persistently over a few years, the senior captain added.
By installing an ill-advised expensive piece of Japanese grant aid at Bhattedanda, the possibility of this happening has therefore been delayed by at least two decades.
The Bhattedanda radar could have been thoughtfully located elsewhere, as Nepal is blessed with high terrain, another pilot said.
This naturally raises questions on the competence of Japanese expertise deployed in Nepal for extended periods of time. The JICA volunteers are retired employees from Japanese Civil Aviation Bureau.
Research into the recruitment practices at JCAB has yielded interesting insights where it drafts high school graduates and trains them at an aviation trade school for civil aviation.
Training of its air traffic controllers, as well as electronic maintenance personnel, is directed towards operating and maintaining air traffic control equipment things the highly disciplined Japanese do with aplomb, a CAAN director explained.
According to him, qualified Japanese engineers are almost never deputed in Nepal, for they cost too much and their specialised expertise is set aside for research and development in the industry.
But how qualified electronics engineers at higher levels in CAAN get carried away by the half-baked analysis of the not-so-highly qualified Japanese hands begs answer, perhaps the lure of a study visit to Japan, a CAAN engineer said.
Interestingly, for the Japanese grant ATC and radar equipment, CAAN has deliberately turned a Nelson’s eye towards meeting the published safety requirements but the ANS safety inspectors did not wish to speak on the issue to this daily.
A version of this article appears in print on March 08, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.