September 26, 2011
According to Aviation Safety Network, the passenger turboprop was a Beechcraft 1900D operated by Buddha Air, which struck terrain while on approach to Kathmandu-Tribhuvan Airport. There were total of 16 tourists and 3 crew members on board. Initial reports say there was one survivor, but this person died on the way to the hospital.The weather was overcast with very low clouds on the approach and “Weather was reported about the time of the accident (07:31 LT / 01:46Z)."
10 Indians, 3 Nepalis, 2 Americans and 1 Japanese were among the victims.
A witness reported that the plane hit the roof of a house in Bisankunarayan village shrouded in fog– just a few miles south of Kathmandu – and broke into several pieces. It was also raining at the time of the crash. No casualties were reported on the ground.
For a country like Nepal with very difficult terrains, this latest crash, (as well as other recent incidents), gives rise to questions about the safety of air travel, particularly in light of the fact that the number of people traveling through Nepali airspace has increased dramatically in the last few years.
Nepal is a member of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a global air operation regulator, which provides airworthiness certificates assessed on the basis of air safety for a particular country. But ICAO won’t check each and every aircraft operating in Nepal. It develops safety guidelines and distributes them to all its members. It is the duty of Nepal’s official regulator, the Civil Avian Authority of Nepal (CAAN) to check the safety aspect of the aircraft operating in the country. And CAAN has had and continues to have a sketchy record.
Cockpit dynamics, corruption, and bureaucratic and peer pressure to fly in bad weather are issues that many officials are unwilling to address in Nepal.
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and, to be fair, with issues such as extreme political insecurity, clean drinking water, food insecurity, lack of healthcare, etc., overhauling civil aviation infrastructure is not on the priority list for most Nepali officials.
But corruption within the system, particularly at Nepal’s airports is legendary. In 2009, for instance, airport staff and security personnel at Tribhuvan International Airport were banned from wearing uniforms with pockets to curb bribes and illegal confiscation of passengers’ personal property. The move was ridiculed by local and international media, but such efforts point to the severity of the problem. More important, there is substantial evidence that corruption in the aviation industry has seeped into equipment purchasing and maintenance process, as well as affecting staff hiring decisions.
On August 8, 2011, a report issued by the Tourism Ministry’s High Level Taskforce on Compliance Status of Safety Recommendation stated that the overall aviation safety standards in Nepal were less than encouraging.
“Safety compliance recommendations and safety related work were found to be not getting due priority,” said Tri Ratna Manandhar, deputy director general of CAAN. “The Tourism Ministry, CAAN and airlines have been found to be not giving enough time to safety related functions.”
The report says a total of 361 safety compliance recommendations were made till 2010. Of them, only 68 percent were fully complied with by the concerned stakeholders. According to the report, the Tourism Ministry has the worst record when it comes to honoring safety compliance recommendations. It says the ministry has complied with only 10 percent of the safety recommendations.
Obviously, the Tourism Ministry is shooting itself in the foot and there must be a ground roots effort to address the ministry’s deplorable record. Tourism is a major source of income for the beleaguered nation. Until the government can prove to its foreign friends that air travel in Nepal is safe, how can it hope to achieve its goal of bringing one million tourists per year into its boundaries? How many deaths must occur before the ministry does its job?