CAAN needs to make drastic reforms from within to address Nepal’s air safety concerns on a par with international standard
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has often made “peculiar choice” of priorities in the name of improving air safety standard – airworthiness and aircraft operation – while leaving other weak areas such as accident investigation and organisational reforms in a shambles. As far as airworthiness and aircraft operation are concerned, CAAN has demonstrated compliance that exceeds the standard of Germany and the UK. International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has, however, asked it to make improvements in its organisational set-up and enhance its capacity in implementing the recommendations made on air accidents. After CAAN signed an agreement with the French regulator for mutual assistance programme in 2017 it helped Nepal in passing the ICAO safety audit. However, other important areas have remained unaddressed. Aviation experts say CAAN officials and the concerned ministry give priority to aerodrome engineering where “big money” lies. The European Union has imposed a ban on all Nepali airlines from flying into its airspace since 2013 citing air safety shortcomings. The EU has recently sent a list of 43 questions to CAAN raising serious concerns about its continued failure to improve air safety. CAAN has so far failed to convince EU air safety experts about the measures it has taken for air safety.
One of the major concerns raised by ICAO and European Aviation Safety Agency is to split the CAAN into two entities – one as a regulatory body and the other only as a service provider or airport operator. But CAAN has yet to act on the ICAO suggestion. The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation has drafted a bill to this effect. When it will be enacted is uncertain. ICAO’s another concern is the non-compliance of the recommendations on air accidents to improve air safety. Due to the continued ban of the European Union, no Nepali airlines, including Nepal Airlines, can fly in the 28-nation bloc of European Union. NAC has recently added four new Airbus aircraft to its fleet. However, NAC has not been able to operate them in Europe because of the ban. Hence, it has incurred huge losses. Two wide-body aircraft were purchased with a view to operating them for long-distance flights including Europe from where a large number of tourists visit Nepal every year.
CAAN is also in a bundle of confusion about the operation date of Gautam Buddha International Airport (GBIA) which will, officials say, be ready for taking off within six months. Before GBIA’s operation, CAAN has to issue an official aviation notification to airlines companies for the date of international flights. Airlines companies will make plans of scheduled flights in advance at GBIA based on the CAAN’s official date of its operation. GBIA might turn out to be another loss making venture if the regulatory body fails to come up with a sound business plan of its operation. Building an airport is easier than its operation. The most challenging part of an international airport or aviation industry is its effective management that will make it worth investment. It is possible only when CAAN wakes up from its deep slumber and starts reforms from within on a par with the international standard.
Ray of hope
Nepal outlawed child marriage in 1963. But the practice is still rampant. Amid all this, a report that Ward No 5 of Rajbiraj Municipality in Saptari has been declared a child marriage free zone spawns hope. Ward Chair Samir Jha said as many as 560 households in the ward have met all the criteria required to attain the status of “child marriage free zone”. This was possible through massive awareness campaigns against child marriage.
Child marriage is one scourge the country has been fighting for long. It robs children of their childhood. Then there are other associated complexities, including health-related ones, when children are married at a young age. Child marriage though affects both girls and boys, it affect girls more by robbing them of their rights and freedoms. Per UNICEF data, Nepal has the third highest rate of child marriage in South Asia. Child marriage occurs due to various reasons, but key among them is gender discrimination, poverty and lack of awareness. The government needs to do more to end child marriage. The most effective way is massive campaigns against the practice — like in the case of Ward No 5 of Saptari.
A version of this article appears in print on December 19, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.