EDITORIAL: Improve air safety

The government has no other option than to address EU’s concerns so that Nepali airlines can spread their wings far and wide

Nepal is aiming at bringing in over two million tourists during the Visit Year 2020. The country aims at attracting at least one million tourists every year by making reforms in the tourism sector including improving the country’s air safety standards as specified by International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the international regulatory body in civil aviation. Currently tourism industry contributes, on an average, 3.5 per cent in the Gross Domestic Production (GDP) and the country has a plan to increase its contribution to 10 per cent in the next five years. The country’s aviation sector, particularly state-owned Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC), plays a vital role in increasing tourist arrival. Taking all these into account, the government stood as a guarantor to the NAC to purchase four new aircraft – two narrow-body and two wide-body aircraft – so that they can be pressed into services in long distance flights, including Europe, Japan, Korea and China, from where a large number of tourists arrive Nepal for sightseeing, trekking and mountaineering.

However, it has been five years since the 28-nation bloc of the European Union imposed a ban on Nepali Airlines from flying into its skies due to poor air safety. The ban is still in place as the European Aviation Agency has found no improvement in air worthiness of Nepal’s airlines for the last five years. Nepal is among the 15 nations facing such ban from flying into EU bloc. “All Nepali airlines are still subject to an operating ban due to lack of safety oversight by the aviation authorities,” EU stated in its updated air safety list made public in Brussels on November 30. EU has blacklisted Nepal since 2013 after ICAO raised “significant safety concerns” of Nepali airlines. Recently, EU sent a list of 43 questions to Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) raising serious concerns about continued failure to address air safety shortcomings. CAAN officials were to blame for what has gone wrong in Nepal’s air safety. They did not properly inform the EU about the measures taken in Nepal about improving air safety.

The EU has time and again asked CAAN to act only as a regulatory body. However, it is still acting as a service provider as it operates all airports, resulting in the conflict of interest. A regulatory body cannot play a dual role in aviation sector. Another issue raised by the EU is whatever recommendations are made in air accidents are rarely implemented to improve air safety. And, EU has also raised CAAN’s overall institutional capability. Unless these issues are addressed well European skies will remained closed for Nepal’s airlines. If Nepali airlines, mainly NAC, are barred from flying into Europe the country’s goal of bringing in two million tourists will not be met and NAC’s two wide-body aircraft will also remain idle for want of long haul destinations causing it financial loss. CAAN officials are also learnt to have misled tourism minister Rabindra Adhikari about the progress being made in removing the ban. Adhikari had, on June 22, said EU would remove its ban on Nepali airlines within three months. But it did not happen. Without addressing these concerns Nepali airlines will not be able to spread their wings far and wide.

Enhance capacity

The government has prepared the template of ‘Strategy for Resilient Local Communities 2018’ to pave the way for local communities to devise their own strategies on disaster management and climate change adaptation. Globally, Nepal is ranked 4th, 11th and 30th in vulnerability to climate change, earthquake and flood risks, respectively, according to the United Nations. What is also peculiar about Nepal is that it has diverse physical belts -- from flat lands in the Tarai to rugged and difficult terrain in the hills and mountains -- within a distance of around 250 km.

So, ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy will not work in Nepal. This is the reason why the constitution has made the local levels responsible for disaster risk reduction and disaster management. The template of the strategy has been prepared based on this constitutional provision. Local communities definitely have more knowledge about threats posing them, but it cannot be guaranteed that they can devise appropriate strategies to overcome those challenges or enhance their resilience. So, the capacity of local communities must be enhanced. Failure to do so would lead to formulation of superficial strategies that will not help in disaster preparedness or disaster risk reduction.