No pilots: Chinese planes to sit idle

- Post Report, Kathmandu
The Y12e made by Harbin Aircraft Industry Group are scheduled to land at Tribhuvan International Airport at 2 pm on Tuesday

Feb 13, 2018-State-owned Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) lacks enough pilots to fly its two new Y12e aircraft that will be arriving from China on Tuesday, and officials see increasing chances of their remaining parked at the airport for quite a while.

The two 17-seater planes are the last of the six aircraft ordered from China. The Y12e made by Harbin Aircraft Industry Group are scheduled to land at Tribhuvan International Airport at 2 pm on Tuesday, NAC said. They will be coming via Dhaka, Bangladesh and will be flown by foreign pilots.

“We have been looking for senior flying crews for the Y12e. We have also published an advertisement to hire foreign captains,” said NAC spokesperson Rabindra Shrestha. The corporation is taking delivery of the two aircraft three years after they were manufactured. The manufacturer completed assembling the Y12e for Nepal in early 2015. They have been sitting in the factory hangar since then.

NAC has produced only three captains to fly the Y12e aircraft in last three years. It has a dozen co-pilots and an instructor pilot. “Of the three captains, one is away on leave,” Shrestha said.

The national flag carrier will have four Y12e aircraft in its fleet, but it has only two captains to fly them. The shiny new planes will remain idle on the tarmac of the

airport for an indefinite period, said a Tourism Ministry official.

Although the corporation plans to resume flights on remote domestic routes that had been suspended due to lack of aircraft once the Y12e arrive, the plan does not look like materializing anytime soon.

The first batch of two Y12e arrived in Kathmandu in 2014, and were intended to serve remote mountain airfields like Lukla, Jomsom, Manang, Simikot, Rara, Jumla and Dolpa. But the aircraft faced regulatory limits, which meant they could only fly to airports with a maximum grade of up to 2 percent or about 1.2 degrees of slope.

As a result, the Y12e have been only operating on the Pokhara and Simara sectors, pending the issuance of a certificate by the manufacturer clearing them to serve airports with a slope of more than 2 degrees.

Although the aviation regulator Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal had given clearance to NAC to conduct test flights with the aircraft to Lukla and other mountain airports on November 23, 2016, they have not happened.

The runway at Lukla’s Tenzing-Hillary Airport has an 11-degree slope. Most of the short take-off and landing (STOL) airfields in Nepal including Lukla in Khumbu are above the regulatory limit.

In November 2012, NAC had signed a commercial agreement with AVIC, a Chinese government undertaking, to procure six aircraft: two 56-seater MA60 and four 17-seater Y12e. One 56-seater MA60 and one 17-seater Y12e arrived in Kathmandu in April and November 2014 respectively under this deal. These two aircraft were provided to Nepal as gifts.

NAC put off taking delivery of the rest of the planes for two years following problems, including load restrictions, with the two that had joined its fleet in the first lot.

In February 2017, the corporation received another MA60 and Y-12e aircraft after being assured by the manufacturer China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC) that it would provide every help necessary to keep them flying in the Nepali skies.

However, the process of bringing the remaining two Y12e stalled due to lack of flight crews.

China has provided one MA60 and one Y12e worth Rs2.94 billion as gifts. The other aircraft are being bought with a soft loan of Rs3.72 billion provided by China’s EXIM Bank.

Published: 13-02-2018 10:31

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