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Plane crash shines light on safety issues again

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu

Feb 26, 2016-

The crash of Tara Air Flight 193 on Wednesday has again spotlighted Nepal’s poor air safety record. The Canadian-made Twin Otter aircraft slammed into the Himalayan foothills on a flight from Pokhara to Jomsom killing all 23 aboard.

In 2013, Nepali airlines had been put in the bad books of the International Civil Aviation Organization (Icao) and the European Commission (EC) as being unsafe to fly. After the latest incident, getting the significant safety concern (SSC) tag given to Nepal removed will be even more difficult.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan) had said last December that it expected Icao to remove the SSC tag by July 2016 as most of the safety problems it had raised had been dealt with.

Caan is optimistic that after the global aviation watchdog cancels the SSC, the European Commission (EC) will take Nepal out of its list of airlines banned from flying in Europe by December 2016.  

Nepal was red-flagged on “operations”, among the eight critical elements of safety oversight, due to the large number of aircraft accidents and incidents between 2009 and 2012, with at least two passenger aircraft crashing annually.

On December 5, 2013, the EC had put Nepal on its air safety list, banning all carriers certified in Nepal from flying into the EU because of significant safety deficiencies requiring decisive action. International airlines and travellers hesitate to travel to a country whose air safety has been questioned by Icao and the EC.

Wednesday’s disaster was the first in nearly two years after Nepali aviation’s long track record of mishaps.

“Obviously, the situation has become difficult. Despite Tara Air’s improvements in terms of safety over the past years, Wednesday’s disaster was unfortunate,” said Sanjiv Gautam, director general of Caan.

“The SSC is directly related to Nepal’s certification process for the issuance of air operator certificates. But the disaster could have indirect repercussions on Nepal’s efforts to get the SSC tag removed.”  

Issues of accountability and a general lack of safety culture are routinely cited by experts as the major factors behind the poor performance of airlines.

“It’s unfortunate that one of the most advanced planes has crashed in Nepal,” said aviation expert Kumar Chalise. “Technology is power to enhance safety, but in the wrong hands it has the potential to wreak havoc.”

Although an investigation committee has been formed to ascertain the reason behind the crash, preliminary reports indicate that the pilot made a wrong decision to enter thick clouds.

Chalise said that the aircraft’s operation and safety during the flight is ultimately the pilot’s responsibility, but in many cases they exhibit over-confidence.

“The way the crash took place, it seems that the veteran pilot thought that his aircraft had cloud radar system and so went into the clouds; but it proved to be an unwise decision,” he said.

Experts said that the crash was likely to have far-reaching consequences. They said that a fall in passenger confidence in airline safety would likely lead to an initial reduction in demand.

Domestic carriers in Nepal play a huge role in supporting tourism development; however, their poor air safety record could dampen growth prospects.

The Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents on Thursday said that Wednesday’s crash could hurt the country’s tourism industry which is already struggling with multiple problems. It has asked the government and Caan to develop a firm policy to ensure the safety of travellers and prevent such accidents in the future.  

Foreign carriers connecting Nepal have been recording a healthy growth in passenger traffic since 2003, while domestic air passenger movement has continued to shrink for three straight years.

Published: 26-02-2016 09:02

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