Single-engine flights allowed violating ICAO stipulations

Kathmandu, March 1

The recent crash-landing of the single-engine Air Kasthamandap 9N-AJB aircraft in Kalikot has once again revealed that the country’s monopoly aviation regulatory cum service providing agency has been blatantly violating international standards in terms of operation of single-engine aircraft in a country that is predominantly mountainous.

Standard 5.1.2 of the Annex – 6, Part 1 (Operation of Aircraft Regulations) of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, that is reflected precisely in Nepal’s Flight Operations Requirements, clearly states that ‘single-engine aeroplanes shall only be operated in favourable weather and light conditions, and over such routes and diversions therefrom, a safe forced landing with permit shall be executed in the event of engine failure’.

The crew members of the ill-fated aircraft, however, were unable to make a safe forced landing in accordance with the ICAO stipulations, as they perished during the manoeuvre due to the unfavourable terrain below.

Clearly, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal has miserably failed as the custodian of air safety norms by allowing the operation of single-engine aircraft for charter operations in mountainous areas of Nepal, where any safe forced landing is virtually impossible, a senior pilot commented refusing to reveal his identity.

Such glaring acts of deliberate non-compliance with the ICAO Annex provisions also shows that CAAN is least interested in enhancing the country’s air safety despite the red-flagging by the European Union and ICAO on account of the country’s dismal air safety record in the past.

According to a senior director at CAAN, the commencement of foul play dates back to 2008 when the authorities resumed single-engine aircraft operation by ending a ban that lasted more than a decade following the Necon Air Cessna crash in Jumla.

Chairman of CAAN along with then minister for culture tourism and civil aviation Hisila Yami had revisited the earlier ban on operation of single-engine aircraft and decided to bring it back in 2008 claiming that such flights were suitable in a mountainous country like Nepal, ignoring ICAO stipulations.

Interestingly, the Nepali delegation participating in the first meeting of the regional aviation safety group Asia and Pacific regions in Noumea, New Caledonia in 2011, had presented a working paper titled “Aviation Safety activities in Nepal” where they boasted of formulating requirements on Engine Condition Trend Monitoring Programme requiring all single-engine aircraft operators to monitor engine conditions for ensuring reliability.

Besides the crash landing of Air Kasthamandap, the fatal crash of Jomsom-bound Tara Air’s Twin Otter in Solighopte, Myagdi on February 24 also puts the regulatory oversight of air operators under scrutiny.

Though the carriage of terrain awareness warning system (TAWS) equipment has been mandated on all aircraft weighing over 5,700 kg, the preparedness of flight crew in properly using the safety equipment has been ignored, a senior Captain admitted.

Though the TAWS equipment is meant to provide the crew with situational awareness with respect to the terrain in less than optimal weather conditions, CAAN has yet to initiate training on TAWS installed in flight simulators.

Also, there is little hope of objectivity as air safety improvement through the investigation reports produced by probe panels are customarily constituted under the chairmanship of former director generals of CAAN, who often resort to lobbying in their defence.

“As usual, conflict of interest is clearly visible here,” a senior pilot with Nepal Airlines said.