KATHMANDU, JUNE 6
The air safety woes at Nepal Airlines Corporation are showing no signs of abatement, despite having a new boss at the helm for over a year now. The crown jewels of the NAC fleet -- the A330 wide-bodies -- are now beginning to bear the brunt of the incompetence of its flight crew, despite some of the top technical management positions being occupied by experienced expatriates.
While the first instance was the heavy landing that has led to one of the aircraft being grounded for over three months, the second, worryingly, relates to other aircraft still flying.
On April 25, flight RA 2052 from Delhi aborted its landing at Kathmandu in its first attempt, despite being cleared by the air traffic controllers for RNP-AR approach -- a satellite-based approach, implemented by Airbus for enhancing flight safety at Kathmandu. This approach, allowing for a curved flight profile for avoiding terrain, allows aircraft to maintain a constant slope and speed flight profile, thereby intending to reduce crew workload, However, Captain Vijay Lama, the senior NAC commander on the event flight and a celebrity, on the contrary, along with co-pilot Arpit Shrestha, chose to increase the cockpit workload by his unprofessional behaviour bordering on recklessness, THT has learnt.
According to sources, the approach to Kathmandu, over treacherous terrain, requires the flight crew to maintain situational awareness at all times, but on the incident flight the crew lost their situational awareness during the critical phase leaving the aircraft at a significantly higher altitude - unprepared for executing the RNP-AR approach.
Worse still, the crew were clueless about the issue for several minutes, unable to interpret the cues presented by the instrumentation of the highly automated aircraft. Even when the missed approach procedure was finally executed after numerous bunglings by the crew, the aircraft's flight profile didn't match that of the profile required by the CAAN's aeronautical publication.
The standard missed approach procedure is a flight profile published by the airport authority to provide guidance to a flight for discontinuing the landing manoeuvre, if the crew, citing technical malfunction or unavailability of vacant runway, intend to go around and attempt another approach.
This incident not only lays bare the reckless conduct of a senior A330 commander under a non-existent safety culture at the flag carrier, but also the dubious quality of training being imparted to the flight crew before being issued authorisation to command flights by the regulator -- the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal. Despite top honchos of the NAC and the CAAN claiming that safety has indeed improved since the EU's operating ban was issued in 2013, the regulator's consistent inability to get ahead of the carriers under its oversight when it comes to investigating safety occurrences continues to be perplexing, aviation experts said.
This has certainly to do with the atmosphere of bonhomie and camaraderie between the two parties rather the two than being somewhat adversarial in the interest of public safety.
CAAN inspectors and top bosses clicking glasses with flight crew at parties thrown by the flag carrier in Nepal and abroad speaks volumes about the existing state of professionalism at the two entities, more so at the regulator.
Aviation experts say it remains to be seen how CAAN probes this incident. Already, it has come to the fore a month late, akin to the previous heavy-landing incident, when the aircraft continued to make flights for over a month, until the issue was flagged by the company providing flight data analysis for NAC on a monthly contractual basis.
CAAN Spokesperson Raj Kumar Chhetri said NAC had been asked to submit details of the incident at the earliest. "CAAN will take further action once it receives NAC report," he added.
NAC sources claimed that an internal probe team would furnish details to CAAN in a day or two.
A version of this article appears in the print on June 7, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.