KATHMANDU: The national flag carrier Nepal Airlines Corporation’s penchant to be in the news for the wrong reasons continues unabated as it once again threw flight safety protocols to the winds even when operating President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s VVIP flight to Bangkok today.
In a serious breach of VVIP handling protocol, the NAC management chose to disregard its standard operating procedure (SOP) that requires to the flight to be manned by at least two senior captains, preferably instructor pilots. But, strangely, senior captain Subash Rijal alone was rostered along with co-pilots Sanjay Baidhya and Sanjay Poudel to conduct the flight.
President Bhandari left for Bangkok on NAC's Airbus 9N-AKX at 10:15 am en route to Colombo as part of her five-day official visit to Sri Lanka.
As per NAC sources, the co-pilots-Paudel and Baidhya are not yet A320 rated captains, and are not equipped to take command of the aircraft should an emergency situation arise, including the captain’s possible mid-air medical incapacitation. The airline’s Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that constitutes a section of the airlines’ operations manual is an essential safety documents required for managing any possible untoward happenings.
“It’s a serious breach of safety of the VVIP,” a senior official at the President Office reacted.
According to a source at Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, one of the co-pilots only possesses a “frozen” airline transport pilot license and is therefore hundreds of hours short of earning his airbus commander ratings.
What is alarming though is, that despite lacking the mandatory formal training on operating in reduced vertical separation minima airspace- where the vertical separation between aircraft stands at 1000 feet, one-half the normal separation, the co-pilots are being allowed to man such international flights, including VVIP.
This case has not only illustrated NAC’s utter callousness even in sensitive matters of flight operations, but also the factual state of regulatory oversight by the CAAN mandarins who remain fixated on welcoming the ICAO team this June to get off its bad-books-SSC, even while utter mess prevails at the flag-carrier and its MD remains obsessed with the A330.
One of the NAC’s senior captains also claimed that it was the first ever incident in the history of national flag carrier where NAC has conducted scores of VVIP flights in the past. “The standard operation procedures can’t be overlooked while conducting the VVIP flights,” he said.
The VVIP-handling meeting of NAC’s top brass held yesterday on the eve of the VVIP flight deliberately overlooked the safety concern -- approving the crew list to conduct VVIP flight.
NAC’s Managing Director Sugat Ratna Kansakar and other senior directors were present in the meeting.
NAC spokesperson Rabindra Shrestha said he had no idea about the procedures that were followed to conduct today's VVIP flight.
"I can't comment on it" he said.