Better safe than sorry

  • Weather conditions make Nepal’s airspace more challenging for pilots

Mar 1, 2019-

Sometimes, it is not worth taking a risk. This seems to be the case with the Air Dynasty helicopter crash that occurred on Wednesday in Taplejung. The tragic incident killed all seven on board including Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Rabindra Adhikari. Along with Adhikari, the crash claimed the lives of prominent tourism entrepreneur Ang Tshiring Sherpa, managing director of Yeti Airlines and the chairman of Air Dynasty; Birendra Prasad Shrestha, deputy director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal; Dhurba Bhochhibhoya, deputy director of the aviation authority; Yubaraj Dahal, a personal aide to Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli; and Arjun Kumar Ghimire, a Nepal Army official. Captain Prabhakar KC was flying the Air Dynasty helicopter, a French-made Eurocopter AS350 B3E Écureuil.

Before taking off an aircraft, three factors are mainly to be considered: wind, cloud, and weather. In Taplejung, there was a strong wind, thick cloud, and heavy snowfall--all thought to be critical weather conditions. Despite these warnings, the pilot decided to fly. Regrettably, it proved to be a gross miscalculation of risk on his part.

Initial findings suggest that the nature of the crash was a Controlled Flight into Terrain--meaning the aircraft was airworthy and under control of the pilots, and it unintentionally hit terrain. But no matter the cause, this incident reminds us how important air safety is, especially in a country like Nepal where the geography and weather are challenging.

Nepal has suffered almost 30 fatal airplane crashes in the past three decades, and the number rises much higher when considering helicopter crashes and non-fatal accidents. There are a number of policies in place aimed at making flying safe in the country. Helicopters have a single engine. Visual flight rules apply to them. Visual flight rules are a set of regulations under which a pilot operates an aircraft in weather conditions generally clear enough to allow the pilot to see where the aircraft is going. Entering a cloud under a visual flight condition is a violation of standard operating procedure. Despite these rules being in place, they are summarily ignored.

Safety is the number one priority and, therefore, accident prevention is crucial. One way of doing so is introducing pilot behavioural assessment. Such assessments could help predict which candidates will safely and successfully fulfil the different requirements of a pilot. And perhaps in cases like ours, based on such assessments, pilots should be permitted to fly over different terrains.

Accidents happen and are especially prone to happen in a country like Nepal whose beautiful yet deadly terrain adds significant risk to flight operations. Moreover, meteorological conditions in the country, such as the occurrence of thick fog conditions, make the airspace that more challenging for pilots. However, it is for such added risks that Nepal must particularly focus on air safety.

Published: 01-03-2019 07:58

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