Kathmandu, May 8
The recent incident at Tribhuvan International Airport, where an employee of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal was detained by customs officials for allegedly smuggling gold, has once again raised serious questions about the manner in which the sole international gateway continues to operate.
The issue assumes significance as it involves a purported abuse of a restricted area pass issued to employees who need access to the various areas on the premises of TIA, according to stakeholders.
TIA is home to nearly 100 agencies including airlines, customs, security agencies, and, of course, CAAN that runs both the control tower as well as the aerodrome.
Within CAAN, there are several disciplines that claim unrestricted access to the airport area for purposes of cleaning, maintenance, supervision, inspection, and operations, a senior TIA official said.
The provisions of International Civil Aviation Organisation on aviation security at airports require a sound mechanism for controlling access to the airside by unauthorised persons and stipulate establishing identification system for persons and vehicles being granted access. The restricted area pass is one such form of identification for ensuring ICAO compliance.
The ICAO provisions, interestingly, are intended to ensure that the safety of aircraft and its occupants is not compromised by acts of unlawful interference and are not concerned with any contraband per se.
That is the domain of national non-aviation regulations — customs and excise among others. Gold, in any quantity, cannot be said to undermine the safety of flight and is not a contraband item in the gulf countries, else, it would not be allowed on board for transit to countries like Nepal and India at the ports of departure, a senior officer described.
Interestingly, the management of access control at TIA is shared between CAAN and the Nepal police. While the CAAN is engaged in issuing access control passes, Nepal police is involved in frisking and verifying the identity of pass holders at some checkpoints, whereas at others, the task is delegated to CAAN-maintained electronic access gates, a senior police officer admitted.
“Clearly, in this arrangement of overlapping jurisdiction, it would be difficult to enforce ultimate accountability for any untoward happening,” a senior manager said, adding that aviation security, a highly specialised task, is better left to a single professional agency else the reputation of the whole nation will remain at stake.
CAAN considers the TIA its home turf and consequently, historically, almost all CAAN officials have had access to all-area passes for mere reasons of prestige and not the official ‘need-to-go’ basis. Else, ‘why would an air traffic controller need to frequent the airside?’ an airline station manager reacted.
According to him, several active duty personnel — police, airlines — in their moments of weakness have fallen for greed, as recent events have shown, and yet, shockingly, even retired director generals and former CAAN board members are allowed to brandish all-area passes thanks to a policy decision by a former visionary DG.
It appears that for such retirees, who are no longer bound by any moral or regulatory obligations, CAAN has taken their morality and ethics for granted for perpetuity. “No succeeding CAAN chief executive has bothered to change the decision for fear of antagonising his brethren as well as securing himself a place in the hall of prestige,” a CAAN director shared.
While CAAN relishes procuring X-ray baggage inspection system for different airports mindlessly, the recent episode where a hand-baggage XBIS lay unused for nearly two years at Nepalgunj before being partially utilised this week, shows that the priorities are different for foreign junkets and commission accompanying equipment procurement, the director explained.
A version of this article appears in print on May 09, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.