Money

March launch of nonstop Osaka service ‘unlikely but possible’

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu

Feb 11, 2019-

The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal said it was ‘unlikely but possible’ that Nepal Airlines’ would start flying to Osaka in March-end, indicating that the national flag carrier had many safety deficiencies to fix first. The aviation agency’s statement followed Nepal Airlines’ announcement that it would be launching a nonstop service to Japan with its brand new Airbus A330 next month.

A senior safety official at the aviation authority told the Post on Sunday that Nepal Airlines had to address at least 24 findings, with four-five of them being major ones, and it would take months to resolve them. An internal audit report of the national flag carrier was carried out in early 2018, but nothing has been done so far, the source said.

One of the key findings is setting up an integrated operation control centre, a 24/7 mandatory service to provide real-time flight information including the actual time of arrival and departure, boarding gate number for departing passengers and real-time flight information when the aircraft is flying outside Nepal.  

Read: EU ban on Nepali airlines continues

“The task is not difficult. Five-six trained engineers and pilots would need to be stationed at the centre and assist the aircraft whether it is flying in the Nepali or foreign skies,” said the official. “There are other findings, which we cannot make public; but they are not difficult to fix.”

On September 3 last year, the South Korean authority wrote to the Nepal government in response to Nepal Airlines’ plan to conduct direct flights to Seoul that it would be sending an audit team for safety checks. The team would determine whether the Nepal Airlines fulfilled international standards to operate in Incheon International Airport, one of the largest and busiest airports in the world.

Five months have passed, but Nepal Airlines has not given any indication of inviting the audit team. The South Korean government had named an audit team led by Cho Donghyun, assistant director of flight standard division of Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, to conduct the audit of Nepal’s national flag carrier.

Read: Nepal Airlines to resume Osaka flights, drops Tokyo plan

The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal had advised Nepal Airlines not to invite the team immediately as its preparations were not sufficient to satisfy the auditors. The audit is a regular process of any country’s aviation regulator before allowing new carriers to operate. 

Executive Chairman Madan Kharel of Nepal Airlines told the Post that the integrated operation control centre would be put into full-fledged operation, and that preparations were at the final stages. “We are also working on other issues pointed out by Nepal’s aviation regulator. I don’t think Japan will prevent us from operating services to Osaka.”

Earlier, Kharel said that Japan’s civil aviation agency would conduct safety checks of the carrier before allowing it to resume service to Kansai International Airport, forcing it to postpone the inauguration from February to March-end.

The Japan Civil Aviation Bureau has clearly stated that safety checks are a regular process, and they are conducted as per the standard of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, he said. “It has also clarified that Japan does not follow the European Aviation Safety Agency’s aviation safety process,” said Kharel. The European Commission has maintained a ban on Nepali airlines for five consecutive years through an updated European Union air safety list.

Kharel said the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau would coordinate with the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal regarding the safety records of Nepal Airlines. “We are not sure how long the safety checking process will take, but we are all ready to start service.” Kharel said that the carrier would begin its non-stop service in March-end. He added that they had completed the entire process related to ground handling, catering and refueling at Kansai International Airport.

Read: Nepal, Japan sign pact for 14 weekly flights

In response to the Post news story, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal said that the March inauguration was unlikely to happen. “Not only Japan, the airline will not be able to fly to new destinations unless it addresses the safety deficiencies pointed out by the internal audit. It’s not a big challenge, but the corporation’s response has been slow.”

Nepal Airlines has also announced plans to operate flights to Dammam in Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabian authorities have said that it would need to pass safety checks first.

Nepal Airlines operated flights to Osaka via Shanghai, China from 1994 to 2007 before shutting down the service due to lack of aircraft.

On June 18 last year, Nepal and Japan revised their air service agreement, increasing the number of flights seven-fold from twice weekly to 14 weekly flights with any type of aircraft on a reciprocal basis. As per the old air service agreement signed on February 17, 1993, Nepali airlines were permitted to operate 400 weekly seats or two weekly flights out of a single airport.

Published: 11-02-2019 08:58

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