Aviation authorities asked a New Delhi-bound Austrian plane which had taken off from Lilabari in Assam in east India to land in Kathmandu after the radar in Tribhuvan International Airport detected that the EMB-1385 had entered the Nepali airspace unauthorised and was flying above Tumlingtar. The plane was first asked to stay on air for about 10 minutes, the time required by the security agencies on ground to decide the immediate fate of the plane’s sojourn. The eight-member crew of the 13-seater plane was held up by the security forces. Although the crew has stated that they were in for sightseeing along the Himalayas, this, however, cannot be the reason for the plane’s entry as Monday’s method contravenes the aviation etiquettes which any pilot is familiar with. Air traffic along trans-boundary routes is not as simple as it appears to be. Any airborne contraption using another country’s airspace is governed by aviation rules. The pilot ought to have known it.
It is a different matter that security agencies upon investigation found that the plane did not have any suspicious cargo on board or posed any security threat whatsoever. The issue, however, is why didn’t the crew ask for permission prior to entering Nepal’s airspace which could have been conveniently acquired 10 minutes before entry? While some reports have indicated that the pilot might have been misled into believing that the Indian agency responsible for the plane’s itinerary and administrative aspects might have acquired the permission, the argument still falls short of explaining why the pilot did not check out with his agent even if that were the case. Probably the timing of the plane’s incursion into the Nepali airspace has raised many an eyebrow in the government ranks. It is also possible that it might have been a stray incident but that is no reason why a thorough investigation on the matter should not be launched. A similar incident in Purulia in India in the nineties was linked to an illegal arms deal. Incidentally, an 11-member investigation panel is already looking into the incident. Because entering a country’s airspace except during exceptional circumstances is to disregard the aviation guidelines, something the plane did on Monday by entering Nepal, the crew must be closely grilled about its straying into Nepali airspace. They have a lot of explaining to do.