Nepal | June 02, 2020

‘Recent incidents reveal state of aviation safety in Nepal’

Rajan Pokhrel
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In this undated image, passengers wait for flights to Lukla, at Manthali Airport in Ramechhap district. Photo courtesy: Angela Essex-Hans/ Facebook

Kathmandu, April 30

The recent landing incident involving a Tara Air Do-228 at Ramechhap airport where the aircraft carrying foreign tourists impacted the airfield fencing and landed short of the runway has once again laid bare the state of aviation safety in Nepal, according to stakeholders.

In contrary to the claims of significant improvements in Nepali skies made by the head honchos of the aviation regulator as well as the airline operators, this serious incident, essentially implying a disaster narrowly averted, neither inspires confidence in the claims made by the safety regulator about their achievement in getting Nepal off the red-list of the International Civil Aviation Organisation nor does not bode well for Nepali aviation, when Nepal gears up to host the annual jamboree of air safety regulators of the Asia-Pacific region in August, a senior captain with Nepal Airlines said.

“For it must not be forgotten that just a little while ago a runway excursion by a Summit Air Turbolet 410 aircraft that collided with helicopters parked in the adjacent helipad and resulting in the deaths of airport security personnel as well as the co-pilot of the aircraft and the minister for civil aviation perished with his entourage in an unflattering helicopter accident in Taplejung earlier,” the captain explained.

Lying to the north-east of Kathmandu, the Ramechhap airport with limited infrastructure to cater for occasional flights has been presently designated a temporary forward operating base for flights to Lukla. The number of daily flights currently often exceeds 50 as Tribhuvan International Airport undergoes nightly runway resurfacing delaying airport operations till 8:00 am.

Besides, the deaths of the police personnel in the Lukla crash due to contact with the aircraft also portrays a dismal picture of the state of aerodrome operations safety practices. “Clearly, the police personnel posted at aerodromes trained on basics of aviation security are never trained on aerodrome operations and associated hazards by the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal that also serves as the aerodrome operator,” a senior CAAN official shared, “It is unlikely that the Nepal police personnel have been issued a training certificate on aerodrome operations.”

For effecting regulation of air operators, individual safety inspectors from CAAN flight safety department are assigned to specific air operators for performing oversight of areas like flight operations, aircraft maintenance, according to him.

“This practice, in line with international practices, and intended to enforce accountability at individual inspector’s level has clearly fallen short of achieving its safety objectives, as despite the rapid succession of air crashes none of the safety inspectors have ever been known to be transferred to another department as disciplinary action let alone face suspension for gross negligence leading to a loss of lives and nations’ reputation,” the official admitted.

If one could get away with crashes by solely blaming the operator, the European Commission would have no reason to ban all airlines under the safety oversight of CAAN and grill the regulator’s top honchos at Brussels air safety meetings, another captain with the private airlines said.

On the contrary, the safety inspectors are rewarded by the CAAN management by being frequently deputed on foreign tours in the garb of training, inspections and audits, all at the operators’ expenses, he said. “In fact, the influential operators are known to lobby on their behalf with the director general for their pet inspectors, as it is a fairly symbiotic relationship.”

No wonder, even in the aftermath of deadly crashes, the operators were never ordered to suspend operations pending a thorough review of operations and maintenance, as their influence was known to be far-reaching, an aviation expert said. “This contrasts sharply with earlier times when in the aftermath of the twin crashes of Thai and PIA in 1992 the director general of department of civil aviation Lalit Bikram Shah was sacked by the then GP Koirala-led government even though the operators were foreign-based,” he added.

A version of this article appears in print on May 01, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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