Aviation Minister fed up with CAAN status quo?

KATHMANDU: Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Jeeban Bahadur Shahi has hinted that he faced a tough time to deal with the aviation-related issues as the status quo remains a norm in the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal.

The statement comes from the minister with an aviation background even three years after the country was red-flagged by the International Civil Aviation Organisation and its carriers blacklisted by the European Union in 2013.

Releasing a booklet on country’s status on aviation safety on Friday, Minister Shahi, who is also the chair of CAAN’s board, said that unionism and politics adversely affected the functioning of the aviation regulatory cum service providing body.

He was referring to the negligence of the airport officials as they took over an hour to keep a dead mammal away from the runway, closing the sole international airport, on Wednesday.

“I have heard that CAAN employees often ignore their duties in the name of unions as well as they come to even threaten others,” he said.

Despite being an autonomous statutory body for nearly two decades, CAAN continues to be run on the whims of the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation and his/her political party driven by petty interests, and little has changed despite change of guard at the ministry, according to participants of the event organised by CAAN to release the ‘Aviation Safety Report – 2016'.

Two aviation divisions at the MoCTCA are permanently occupied with joint-secretaries of Air Traffic Control background, who cannot be transferred anywhere else in the entire bureaucracy, leading to permanent stagnation and the ill effects associated with it.

“Nor are they held accountable for the ICAO smear, despite charged with the supervision of CAAN and accident investigation,” a representative from the private airlines reacted.

Whereas there was a dearth of willing takers for the position of Director at the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand as well as subordinate positions, after the incumbent was dismissed for not being result-producing after Thailand earned the ICAO red-flag in 2015, the position in Nepal is curiously enticing.

With the average tenure of CAAN DG being a mere 15 months on an average, no serious taker would ever want to throw his hat in the ring.

Though the CAAN DG is appointed by the Cabinet, often on political convenience, in order to appreciate the fact that his/her position is actually so precarious and actually helpless, it takes a mere scrapping of the veneer of the pretence.

"The six deputies - deputy directors general heading the directorates and the TIA General Manager - are appointed by the Board of Directors and are entitled to a tenure of six years and the DG himself has little say in the process," CAAN sources said.

Interestingly, when the DG is unable to post his deputies at appropriate positions, let alone choose them, the proverbial chain of command gets chucked out of the window and so does the accountability- whether about air safety or airport management.

The only area where the DG has influence and discretion is mere foreign nominations, pathetically, a CAAN board member recounted.

The actual power play that goes in such appointments is evident from the fact that the position for Deputy DG for air navigation services directorate continues to be run by an acting DDG despite being vacant for nearly a year. "This is because the candidates are capable of applying influences from the topmost leaders resulting in the present equilibrium and causing the abominable situation at domestic airports for which no one is held accountable."

With an acute shortage of international aircraft parking stands leading to flight delays, the never-ending maintenance of bay number 4 is an ample proof of the managerial prowess at CAAN, an airliner reacted.

The airport chiefs, interestingly all former air traffic controllers, were content handling multi-crore budgets and escorting party leaders at VIP rooms to make acquaintances for reaping future benefits, and if time allows, indulging in eye-candy activities such as tending to gardens for posting pictures on Facebook for popularity, a director added.

“Why to care about clearing the airside including the jungles and bushes that have become the abode of wild animals, now threatening air safety?”