Air Safety Measures Must Be Strictly Implemented : Narayan Upadhyay

Last week, two air accidents took place in a span of three days in which 25 persons, including cabin crew members, perished. A Twin Otter aircraft belonging to Tara Air crashed en route to Jomsom, killing 23 on board while a single-engine aircraft flying from Nepalganj to Jumla crashed when the pilots tried to force land the ill-fated plane on difficult terrain after developing a snag. The government later decided to present medals for the valour shown by the two young pilots, who died during the emergency landing but saved nine passengers.

Dangerous flying

The two air mishaps unequivocally suggest how precarious it is to fly in Nepal’s skies that have grown relatively unsafe for flyers in recent years. Government records suggest that ever since Nepal’s skies were opened to flying, 65 air accidents have taken place in as many years, averaging one accident per year. This record does hint that flying in Nepal is fraught with life-threatening dangers for a passenger opting to take the aerial route to reach his or her destination.

Over the past few years, air accidents have gone up in the nation, thanks to the arrival of a horde of private airlines. Gone are the good old days when the Nepal Airlines Corporation had a monopoly over the Nepali sky, where safety norms of the passengers and aircraft were said to be followed quite strictly.

Sadly, with the increase in the number of air service providers, the number of accidents has also increased. The private airlines that are motivated more by profit than service are often accused of failing to adhere to the safety norms. It has shown that private airlines often press their aircraft to fly more hours and also compel their pilots and crew members to work for more hours than the permitted level. The attitude of the private airlines is cited as the basic reason behind the growing number of air mishaps in Nepal.

There are other major reasons that make flying in Nepal a trying experience. The difficult terrain and topography of the nation, where mainly small aircraft must fly between or above the high hills, gorges and mountains and have to land and take off at acutely-positioned short takeoff and landing (STOL) airstrips, give a hellish time to the pilots and airlines operators.

Meanwhile, the ephemeral weather condition that keeps changing quite often, lack of a sound weather forecasting system and insufficient modern gadgets and equipment inside the aircraft and outside of it make the task of flying a passenger aircraft a testing experience for all those concerned. Ageing aircraft and lacklustre adherence to flying and air safety norms and rules add another headache to the passengers and civil aviation authority responsible for regulating air safety.

This unfavourable situation has even compelled the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which promotes air safety, to criticise the Nepalese aviation sector and issue a decree to the Nepalese civil aviation authority to upgrade the air safety measures and implement them effectively.

Whenever an air accident takes place, the common trend is to put the blame squarely on pilot error or on other human errors. This is done to give a clean chit to the airline operators or the aircraft manufacturers. In some cases, pilot error does take place, but there are times when mechanical snags and defects in the aircraft are cited for the grave air accidents that kill passengers.

Whenever an accident takes place, the government authority must scrutinise all aspects that led to the accident so as to tighten the safety of air services in a nation like ours where flying is tinged with some sense of fear. A small mistake from the pilots or a tiny mechanical snag in the small aircraft may lead to a big accident, causing the loss of many lives and property in the form of damage to the aircraft.

The two latest air accidents must be an eye opener for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) to implement all the air safety measures effectively and compel all airlines to comply with them. There must not be any let-up in compelling the airlines to observe these measures aimed at making air service safe. CAAN must keep perpetual watch on the private airlines that have the tendency to overlook the flying rules.

For example, Tara Air was accused of flying its Jomsom-bound Twin Otter with more weight than permitted. In the wake of the single-engine aircraft mishap in Kalikot, the government authority had prohibited single-engine aircraft from flying passengers.

Apart from compelling the airline operators to follow the rules strictly, our aviation authority must now gear up to equip aircraft, airports and related places with modern gadgets to ensure the safety of air travel. It is often said that while flying from the tourist town of Pokhara to Jomsom, pilots have to rely on themselves to fly through the difficult terrain as they often lose contact with the airports situated at Pokhara or Jomsom. CAAN now is in urgent need to address such a situation while upgrading the standard of the landing strip situated in the many hill and mountain regions.

CAAN’s responsibility

Having said all this, the major responsibility of making the skies of Nepal safe lies on the shoulder of CAAN, which must work as an honest government agency to regulate all airline companies while introducing different methods and measures to upgrade air safety in the nation. Merely forming a probing committee and bringing out dull reports on the air crashes will not be enough to make flying safe. The outcome of all the reports must be analysed and utilised to introduce full-proof safety measures.

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