Aviation fuel spillage tars CAAN, NAC image further

Kathmandu, March 16

The two state-run aviation agencies — Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal and Nepal Airlines Corporation  — have a penchant for being in the news for all the wrong reasons as was demonstrated by the recent aircraft maintenance-related incident.

More than 6,000 litres of aviation turbine fuel spillage during the maintenance of NAC’s Airbus aircraft on Tuesday evening and TIA’s improper response clearly show that the two agencies continue to be beset by clumsy technicians, as well as incompetent management, according to stakeholders.

The fact that the national flag carrier, with its main base including a maintenance hangar at TIA, chooses to persist with the practice of carrying out regular maintenance at an improvised yet unauthorised aircraft stand (Parking Bay 11), without proper lighting necessary for carrying out critical maintenance tasks, shows utter disregard for safety, a senior TIA official told THT.

“The practice, not only remains condoned by the aviation regulator-cum-aerodrome operator, CAAN, for some time now but also by foreign airline operators who do not choose to voice opposition for fear of harassment by this ground handling operator at this lucrative destination,” he added.

An aircraft maintenance hangar, by very nature, besides providing adequate lighting for maintenance activities, is designed not only to manage but also contain any hazardous material (hazmat, in aviation parlance) spillage and store it for proper disposal in lines with national environmental regulations.

If indeed the spillage had occurred inside a hangar meant for A320, it would not have been any issue at all.

“The truth, however, is that the present hangar cannot accommodate the jets in NAC’s inventory, let alone the soon-to-be-acquired much larger A330s.”

The manner in which CAAN allows the national flag carrier to operate its main base without a proper aircraft hangar is plain ludicrous, a station manager of an international airline told THT.

Interestingly, CAAN’s much-touted TIA masterplan is curiously silent on erecting or allowing erection of large aircraft hangars despite serving as the main base for several aircraft operators, the official revealed.

Besides, the CAAN-licensed NAC aircraft maintenance technicians’ inability to correctly remove a faulty fuel pump in line with detailed instructions provided in the aircraft maintenance manual shows fundamental problems in CAAN’s AMTs licensing process.

“The bungling technicians’ opening the ‘housing,’ instead, shows that aviation licences were issued in haste and rather improperly — without proper competency checks — as had been evident in the earlier case when oxygen masks were inadvertently deployed a few weeks ago,” a senior CAAN director admitted.

According to stipulations of International Civil Aviation Organisation, a major fuel spill on the ramp constitutes an airport emergency and falls under the ambit of incident – aircraft on ground.

Such an incident entails activation of emergency response with the same gravity as an ‘aircraft accident at the airport.’ Yet, the airport remained unofficially closed for nearly two hours without issuance of mandatory notice-to-airmen, a senior air traffic controller at TIA admitted.

What is worrisome, though, is that TIA puts up a facade of a ‘certified aerodrome’, implying that it meets all applicable ICAO standards on safety and is subject to regular inspections and audits by the regulators from CAAN head office, he added.

“In reality, though, the inability of TIA management to execute even the bare minimum ICAO safety stipulations is a grim reminder that despite being on ICAO’s and European Commission’s red books for nearly four years now little has changed, except ministers-in-charge.“