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Why did Kathmandu airport allow FlyDubai to take off but ground Nepal Airlines? Officials don’t have a clear answer.

  • New regulations during the runway renovation bar flights from taking off after 10pm, but officials say it is not a blanket restriction.
- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu

Apr 11, 2019-

A week after the country’s only international airport grounded a Nepal Airlines flight citing new flight time regulations, airport officials have allowed a FlyDubai flight to take off past its flight deadline, displaying how haphazard the airport’s management has been ever since runway renovation began.

On April 2, Nepal Airlines flight RA231 was scheduled to take off from Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport for Dubai, but ended up being grounded overnight, for nearly 11 hours, because of new regulations regarding flight time limitations.

On Tuesday, Flydubai flight FZ574, which like the Nepal Airlines flight, had crossed regulatory time limits, was permitted to take off. Despite similar situations, airport authorities appear to have taken an ad-hoc approach to flight time regulations.

“The airport’s general manager directed us to permit the flight,” said an air traffic controller on duty on Tuesday night. The airport, on October 24, 2018, had issued a notice to airmen regarding runway renovation work and had asked airlines to revise their flight schedule accordingly for three months—until June 30. To facilitate runway renovation, which started on April 1, the airport had mandated a flight cut off time of 10pm.

“It’s a regulatory limit. Planes are not allowed to use the runway after 10pm,” said the controller, who did not wish to be named as they were not authorised to speak to the media. “But it’s not a blanket restriction. Under special provisions, flights are allowed to take off.”

The question, however, that many are asking is why the Nepal Airlines flight was grounded overnight while Flydubai was allowed to fly.

Flight RA231, with 274 passengers on board, had asked air traffic controllers to allow them four minutes of grace time to fly after it crossed the cut-off time of 10pm, from its scheduled 9:15pm take off time.

This request was denied, forcing passengers, who were mostly Nepali migrant workers, to suffer. More than half of the passengers refused to disembark and spent the whole night on the plane.

But on Tuesday, Flydubai Flight FZ574 was permitted to take off at 10:17 pm, well past the 10pm limit. Flight radar data shows that the flight was delayed by more than an hour-and-a-half. It was scheduled to takeoff at 8:40pm.

Officials at the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal blamed mismanagement at Nepal Airlines for the April 2 fiasco, and the blame was further passed on to the airport authorities. The Tourism Ministry is conducting an investigation into this issue. On Wednesday, the airport’s general manager was summoned by the Tourism Ministry to furnish an explanation as to why Flydubai was allowed to take off even after the cutoff time.

Tuesday’s case was different, said the air traffic controller. “We observed the situation—whether the workers had reached the construction site on the runway—and allowed the flight to take off,” they said. “As all flight activities on the ground and in the air are controlled by the air traffic controller, safety was not an issue.”

General Manager of the Kathmandu airport Raj Kumar Chettri, however, said that Flydubai was allowed to take off precisely because of the April 2 incident. “Yesterday night, after carefully evaluating the situation, we allowed the flight to take off,” he said.

Flight FZ574 was on time but was delayed after it reported an object on the taxiway as it was preparing for take off, said Chettri. But when asked why Nepal Airlines was grounded last week, he said that he was not in Nepal then and his deputy had been unwilling to take the risk to let the plane fly. “These are exceptional cases,” he said.

However, a senior official at the Tourism Ministry said these two events reflected airport officials’ discriminatory attitude—treating a foreign and national airline differently.

“The case is of the same nature but the treatment was different,” he said. “But airlines had enough time for flight preparation, and their negligence and mismanagement led to the recent fiasco.”

Published: 11-04-2019 08:32

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