On autopilot

The Oct. 8 Lukla air crash in which 18 people lost their lives again puts a question mark over the safety of remote airports in Nepal. The Tenzing-Hillary airport in Lukla sees considerable traffic this time of the year, the peak season for trekking on the Everest circuit. But the tiny airport can only handle helicopters and Twin Otter planes. Like Lukla, most of the airports in remote mountainous regions of Nepal are ill-equipped — even for small planes in bad weather. Earlier this year, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the international oversight body, had sounded out the country’s regulatory organ, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), about serious lapses in Nepal’s air safety. CAAN for its part pointed out an acute shortage of manpower for effective oversight: Nepal has only seven flight inspectors to conduct safety audits and license and crew clearance, though the requirement is of 36.

In this light it is not surprising that CAAN is unable to carry out safety audits in stations other than Tribhuvan International Airport. And yet budgetary shortfall cannot be an excuse for endangering passengers’ lives. The government has to provide for an adequate number of flight and safety inspectors as well as improve ground conditions of airports to certain standards in order to prevent a catastrophe like the Lukla crash.