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Officials leave for Brussels to lift European airspace ban

- Post Report, Kathmandu

Jan 18, 2018-High-level officials of Nepal’s civil aviation authority left for the Belgian capital of Brussels on Wednesday to persuade the European Commission (EC) to lift the order that has barred Nepali airline companies from flying in the skies of major European countries.

The officials are armed with adequate evidences to prove that most of the aviation safety shortcomings identified by the EC four years ago have been fixed. However, they will have to assure the EC representatives that the government is committed to “provide the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan) necessary resources to make it competent to execute various responsibilities independently”. The officials will get four hours to make their case.

If Nepali officials are able to convince the EC representatives, chances of the EC removing Nepal from its “air safety list” are high, sources privy to the matter said. “The EC has lately taken note of political interference at the Caan and has sought intuitional reforms at the aviation regulatory body,” sources added.

A six-member delegation including Tourism Joint Secretary Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane and Caan Director General Sanjiv Gautam will be attending the technical committee meeting of the EC on Friday.

As Nepal has resolved most of the safety shortcomings that were raised by the EC, the officials are optimistic that the next aviation safety committee meeting in June, which will update the EU air safety list, would exclude Nepal from operational restrictions within the European Union.

Last July, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (Icao) had removed the significant safety concerns (SSC) tag it had put on Nepal four years ago. Caan officials are optimistic that the EC will follow suit.

“We will be presenting our progress report at the technical meeting. So far, we have addressed all the safety shortcomings cited by the EC,” said Rajan Pokhrel, deputy director general of the Caan. On Tuesday, Caan had conducted a review meeting with airlines operators regarding the agendas that would be discussed during the Brussels meeting, he said.

The airline industry fears that further continuation of the ban would hurt Nepal’s airlines, as they plan to expand their wings in the European airspace. As long as the restriction is in place, the state-owned carrier Nepal Airlines and private carrier Himalaya Airlines would not be able to fly to Europe and other developed countries.

Nepal Airlines has announced resuming London flight with wide-body Airbus A330 jets, which are expected to join its fleet by mid-2018. Caan officials said that the outcome of the 2017 Icao audit that has given a clean cheat to Nepal’s aviation industry could influence the decision-making process during the Brussels meeting.

The aviation sector is in a buoyant mood due to a dramatic rise in domestic as well as international travellers in Nepal. Apart from Nepal Airlines, Himalaya Airlines and Buddha Air, few other potential operators have shown interest in flying the international routes.

Last November, the EC decided to continue its ban against Nepali airlines that was imposed in December 2013. As Nepal’s issues were not discussed during the EC’s aviation safety committee meeting held on November 13, it decided to formally invite the country’s representatives to its technical committee meeting.

According to Pokhrel, the EC has asked the status of compliance with safety recommendations made by different aircraft accident investigation committees in the past. “We will be providing the compliance status from 2013 to 2016,” he said, adding that more than 80 percent of the recommendations had been implemented. Pokhrel said that the technical meeting will discuss the progress made on issues that Icao audit had not covered last July. 

Among eight critical elements of aviation safety—primary legislation, organisation and safety oversight functions, personnel licensing, aircraft operations, airworthiness of aircraft, aerodromes, air navigation system, and accident and incident investigation—only four elements were audited by the Icao experts. They were legislation, organisation, operations and airworthiness.

Published: 18-01-2018 08:30

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