Three years on, govt and CAAN do nothing to get red tag lifted

Kathmandu, April 16

Despite being a statutory body for ensuring air safety in Nepal, there are signs that the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal is digressing from its original mission, say stakeholders.

Though civil aviation is a heavily regulated enterprise and its constituent elements are required to meet strict regulatory requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, failure to comply with the stipulations has earned Nepal entry into the global shame list significant safety concern in 2013 whereby the country has been put among a few nations such as Eritrea, Haiti and Sierra Leone for three years now.

“Four ministers for civil aviation have assumed office since 2013, but none of them has a concrete plan to vacate the ignominious safety list, which is a major setback for the aviation and tourism sector,” former board director of Nepal Airlines Corporation Ashok Chandra Pokharel said.

Thailand is a new entrant in the list and its military junta cabinet has made getting off the list a top national priority. Apart from grounding three air carriers, it has also restructured the department of civil aviation into a civil aviation authority and air transport department for regulatory and aerodrome service-providing agency respectively.

“But in Nepal, the only tangible plan with CAAN has to do with construction of new airfields at the whim of ministers and prime minister that allows CAAN to spend its budget on sub-standard civil works,” he added.

According to an aviation expert, political coercion has also escalated as exemplified by the grant of type certificate to the Chinese MA-60 aircraft (signifying its airworthiness as per Nepal’s requirements) that rarely takes to the skies; or the Y-12e aircraft that will never be commercially viable; or embarking on the construction of Pokhara as well as Bhairahwa airports, realising fully the technical limitations on aircraft operation posed by terrain and airspace limitations respectively.

As a further travesty of regulation, CAAN licenses its permanent staff for air traffic control duties and showers additional benefits, often twice their salary. “Amusingly, even the inability of its staff to maintain their licenses does not affect their employment.

They are on the payroll till retirement, unfairly occupying positions that should have gone to the new workforce.”

The mismanagement of infrastructural projects, especially the Air Transport Capacity Enhancement Project related to International Competitive Bidding - 01 work at Tribhuvan International Airport, amply illustrate the state of utilisation of Asian Development Bank loans for wild dreams conjured up by foreign consultants without realising the ground realities, another expert commented.

“Why the ADB is more than eager to provide loans for such wild ventures is anybody’s guess, but the reasons why CAAN, sitting on nearly Rs 10 billion cash, insists on ADB loans is clearly understood, especially, when seeking paltry loans for relatively smaller ventures like installing air navigation equipment at airports such as Lukla and Rara.”

As a CAAN engineer explained, “It is the incentives accompanying the execution of projects under the aegis of ADB, whereby the CAAN counterpart engineers and project chiefs gain full indemnity from the prying eyes of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority and all engineering mistakes as well as instances of malfeasance are passed on to ADB recruited consultants.”

Under the ADB-funded projects, contractors have little to lose and therefore they are more than happy to please a handful of CAAN upper echelons by showering favours, the engineer concluded.