Poor meteorological services raising aviation safety risks

Kathmandu, October 3

The state of aviation safety continues to be mired in deep problems, as this daily continues its efforts to unearth the fundamental problems plaguing the country’s aviation sector.

The spotlight this time falls on aviation meteorology, which is essentially considered the back bone of civil aviation in matters of safety, regularity and efficiency.

Though the official aeronautical information publication issued by Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, identifies the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology as the sole authorised provider of aviation meteorology for Nepali airspace, the section on meteorological services in AIP Nepal lists a number of airports for which there is a clear disclaimer stating that the desirable accuracy for measurement of observation as per Annex 3 of International Civil Aviation Organisation may not available.

Except a few airports, including Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, CAAN itself owns and operates the meteorological observation equipment even though it doesn’t qualify as an aviation meteorology organisation.

“AIP clearly specifies that services be rendered in accordance with the provisions of the ICAO Annex on Meteorological Services for International Air navigation but it opts for a disclaimer regarding the accuracy of meteorological services in a number of airports,” a senior captain with a private airlines said.

According to him, high-quality and timely meteorological observations and reports for air navigation are the foundation upon which an effective aeronautical meteorological service is based and of direct consequence to aviation safety. “However, this continues to be a challenging area as the service provider is a government organisation entailing the culture of impunity and lack of accountability.”

Many past air crash investigation reports list deficiencies in aviation meteorology as a contributing factor for the crash, including that of the Nepal Airlines DHC-6 at Arghhakhanchi quite recently. “In view of the outstanding need for quality meteorological data, ICAO in its annex introduced the requirement for a quality management system. Even then the DHM has done little to shore up aviation safety,” an aviation expert said.

The ICAO Annex specifies the minimum standards for measurement of observation, and reporting of various parameters including wind speed, wind direction, pressure altitude, temperature, dew point, runway visual range, among many others, while specialised instruments need to be calibrated regularly to provide observations of specified accuracy.

“Often, the equipment is installed contrary to ICAO and World Meteorological Organisation stipulations, especially the required 10 m high mast for mounting wind sensors near the runway threshold and therefore the necessary meteorological observation are often misleading,” another airline captain told this daily.

The Forecasting Division in DHM that serves as the purported regulator for aviation meteorology is ill-equipped to conduct safety oversight at 50 odd airports with different types of equipment for which only CAAN personnel have been trained abroad, a senior DHHM officer claimed.

Interestingly, the AIP is silent on the state of European runway visual range and ceilometer installed at TIA some years ago to support RNP-AR low-visibility operations. This clearly indicates the equipment was unlikely to be used, and was just a pretext for all the paid jaunts abroad for a lucky few in CAAN.