CAAN’s priorities make mockery of air safety

Kathmandu, December 17

A comparative review of the safety audit results published by International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has once again revealed that the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has often made peculiar choice of priorities in the name of improving air safety standards in the country.

The ICAO’s safety audit results for member countries, available on its website, provides a glimpse into the stark irony whereby Nepal keeps seeking foreign assistance repeatedly in safety oversight areas — airworthiness and aircraft operations — where its demonstrated compliance exceeds that of Germany and the UK, let alone South Asia, despite having hosted ICAO experts for the same for over two years earlier.

“Nepal’s superior performance in the aforementioned areas should have resulted in CAAN’s focus shifting to other weaker areas such as accident investigation and organisation, but it is not to be,” a senior official at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, said.

Earlier, in September 2017, CAAN had signed a memorandum of understanding with the French regulator — Direction générale de l’aviation civile — for a two-year mutual assistance programme in the areas of airworthiness and aircraft operations under which French experts are stationed in Nepal to train CAAN safety inspectors.  “Surely, the CAAN inspectors can’t be deemed incompetent as they ably contributed to Nepal passing the ICAO safety audit with flying colours,” the official added.

Unless, it is Nepal’s intention to touch the stratosphere like France in effective implementation of ICAO safety provisions, this continued fixation is a cause of much heartburn in CAAN’s ranks, especially in light of the continuation of the European Commission’s ban on Nepali carriers, a private airlines executive commented.  After all, it is the areas of airworthiness and aircraft operations in a civil aviation authority that make airlines under its safety oversight safe, he said, adding that amidst the mess in which Nepal’s aviation finds itself wallowing today, CAAN’s peculiar choice of priorities always provides an interesting insight into the impaired capabilities of its strategic planners.

Interestingly though, it is the domain of aerodrome engineering that remains the area of preferred choice for the politicians as well, as it is where big money lies, a senior CAAN official revealed.

While the general public is provided with selective feeds on the proclaimed physical progress about the works at Gautam Buddha International Airport (GBIA) in Bhairahawa and Pokhara International Airport, it is the CAAN’s silence on issuing official aviation notification for the date of inaugural international flights to GBIA that leaves aviation stakeholders unsettled.

As is the international practice, the date of inaugural flight, often announced over a year in advance, has a lot of significance, so as to allow airlines to plan for as well as probable travellers to buy tickets in advance to suit their vacation plans, another airline executive said. “Surely, a lot of travellers from Buddhist countries might be interested to fly to the land of Buddha on the inaugural flight from Thailand, Korea and Japan, among others,” he added.

The GBIA will purportedly be equipped with an instrument landing system and an accompanying airfield lighting system to allow for low visibility operations while the Asian Development Bank-funded GBIA project also intends to instal aviation meteorological equipment at the airport for which the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DoHM) has already contracted a European supplier, a CAAN official shared.

“The ADB sponsored runway visual range equipment at Tribhuvan International Airport worth millions, procured in 2012, still lies unused as the DoHM hasn’t assumed its ownership and operationalised its use in the aeronautical information publication on doubts of its accuracy,” a TIA officer recounted, indicating that the same story is likely to be repeated at GBIA.