Its slapdash approach could spoil things


On the sidelines of the COP26 Meet in Glasgow, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba personally requested Indian PM Narendra Modi to allow more entry airspace points into Nepal to ease access to the new international airports in the pipeline- GBIA and PRIA.

However, strangely, the statutory regulator for Nepali aviation - CAAN, on the other hand, has brazenly chosen to affront the custodian of Indian airspace- Airports Authority of India, THT has learnt.

The issue relates to the commissioning flight inspection of the GBIA, for which, about a year ago, CAAN went scouting for possible flight inspection service providers across the globe, when the contractor for control tower equipment component of the project, including the provision of flight inspection services, Aeronautical Radio of Thailand Limited - AeroThai, citing COVID concerns, declined to visit Nepal for completion of its contracted project component. In response to the request for proposal, only the Airports Authority of India, responded in early July, while the other parties including the US FAA chose to decline.

According to CAAN sources, as the procurement was of an international level, the authority wrote to its line ministry - MoCTCA - for processing it on the line of a government-to-government basis.

However, the ministry, strangely, chose to return the proposal to CAAN with instructions to follow the rules in accordance with the Public Procurement Act, 2006. In the absence of its chairperson, CAAN was hamstrung to reply to the Indian Authority for several months.

With the appointment of the new minister Prem Ale, the CAAN Board authorised the director general to proceed with the acceptance of the Indian proposal and a letter to this effect was dispatched to the AAI Headquarters in late October.

When CAAN chose to intimate AeroThai about this decision, AeroThai, after a week, reverted with its offer to conduct the pending flight inspection in late November.

Comically, the CAAN Board then revisited its decision to accept the Indian proposal and AeroThai informed of its decision. This faux pas by Nepal is understood to have deeply offended the Indian side, sources from the Indian mission in Nepal, said.

The AAI is the statutory custodian of the Indian airspace and the counterpart to CAAN in matters related to airspace. Changes in airspace requested by Nepal are of purely technical nature and meant to be processed by the experts at AAI.

"Detailed safety assessment, in accordance with ICAO stipulations, has to be undertaken before any changes are decided, as the adjoining Indian airspace is that of high-density. The Indian side by merely raising a safety red flag on this front can foil any political will to accede to Nepal's request," a former CAAN director general stated.

In fact, this is what has been happening, since Modi's visit in 2014, when the issue was first raised. But now, with the CAAN Board's slapdash approach, it is unlikely that the issue will be disentangled any time soon as Nepal stands to lose whatever goodwill remained, and with it the fate of the new airports hangs in a balance.

A version of this article appears in the print on November 14, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.