As a major donor to Nepal, Japan should have provided us with modern technology to enhance our airworthiness

Nepal has witnessed a great number of air accidents in recent times thanks to the difficult terrain, high mountains, deep valleys and poor air navigation systems put in place, especially en-route to the Kathmandu Valley. There has not been a single year without an air-accident taking place. The reports of air accident investigation, carried out by the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), are hardly implemented to ensure the country's airworthiness as per the standard set by the International ICAO.

The European Union (EU) has been imposing a ban since 2013 on Nepali airlines from flying into its airspace citing poor air safety measures taken by the government. The EU's ban on Nepali airlines for so many years has caused a huge loss especially to the state-owned Nepal Airlines Corporation, and this measure has also dealt a huge blow to the country's tourism sector.

The latest report about the growing number of air accidents in Nepal has also been blamed for the poor terminal radar facilities installed at TIA and air navigation system placed atop Bhattedanda under a Japanese grant. Radar facilities were first installed at TIA in 1998 under Japanese grant assistance following twin fatal international air crashes in 1992.

The radar facilities were of genuine Japanese origin although they lacked a minimum safe altitude warning system to timely warn air traffic controllers when a flight approaches terrain in an unsafe manner.

Hence, they could not prevent more air crashes, which were largely avoidable.

So another Japanese grant in 2014 gifted Nepal with two radars – one to replace the ageing facility at TIA and another to be set up atop Bhattedanda enroute to Kathmandu.

The enroute radar facility was meant to enhance air safety over 60 per cent of Nepali air-space, yet it failed to prevent crashes in the en-route phase of flights.

It has now been revealed that the Air Traffic Management (ATM) system that processes the radar data, supplied by Nippon Electric Company Ltd. (NEC Japan), was sourced from a little-known Czech company called ALES. The main question here is why did NEC Japan supply a non-Japanese solution to Nepal? Had Japan provided Japanese-made ATM systems, which are better than ALES, Nepal would have been able to greatly enhance its air traffic system and also minimise the growing number of air accidents. Initially, it was claimed that the ATM system was future-ready with promised capabilities of integrating with the satellite-based surveillance system being developed worldwide and known technically as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B).

When CAAN decided to install the ADS-B in western Nepal to enhance air surveillance coverage beyond that of the en-route radar at TIA, it ran into technical issues where the safety certification of the ADS-B system remained stuck due to non-cooperation by NEC Japan. As a major donor to Nepal, Japan should have provided us with state-of-the-art technology to enhance our airworthiness. The Japanese government should launch an inquiry into what went wrong while installing the radar and ATM system in Nepal.

Useful education

Nepal's education system has proved to be unproductive, with hundreds of thousands of students leaving school annually without any skills to sell themselves in the vastly competitive labour market.

Nepal's schools mostly prepare students for a higher education, to which most students from the rural areas have little access. It is not that the government has not tried to introduce vocational and technical education in schools. Way back in the seventies, the New Education Plan had introduced vocational subjects in all schools, with the intent that students would have the work skills to be self-employed should they fail to make it to college. But the plan failed miserably for lack of funds and inability to implement the goals seriously.

The government is now thinking of implementing the One School One Entrepreneurship Programme to teach students different skills besides imparting academic knowledge. To be implemented by the National Youth Council, it intends to engage students in after-school activities such as fishery and horticulture.

If the programme is implemented seriously, it could promote entrepreneurship not only in the household but also in the whole community.

A version of this article appears in the print on September 23 2021, of The Himalayan Times.