Sheer negligence

  • Aviation regulator must ensure standard operating procedures are followed strictly

Jun 13, 2017-

On May 27, Captain Paras Rai and co-pilot Shreejan Manandhar of Goma Air lost their lives while trying to land the Czech-made LET L410 aircraft at Lukla airport. CCTV footage obtained by the Post shows the cargo aircraft was not aligned with the runway centreline while it was descending. This implies the pilot did not see the runway while landing due to low visibility.

The ill-fated flight was operated under visual flight rules (VFR). VFR are a set of regulations under which flights are operated in clear weather conditions where pilots see the direction in which the aircraft is headed. If the weather conditions are not clear, the pilot can call the shots and take the aircraft back to the airport from where the flight originated. All short distance flights are conducted under VFR.

At the time when Rai’s aircraft was about to reach Lukla, it was enveloped by thick fog and a light rain had begun to fall. These are ominous signs for an aircraft to make a landing, especially in what is considered one of the world’s most

dangerous airports. Yet Rai chose to enter the cloud, which is against the standard operating procedure. This is probably because he was only minutes away from completing the flight and didn’t want to financially burden the airline company by cancelling the flight.

It is generally believed that airline companies exert pressure on pilots to complete ongoing flights. Such attitude of generating extra savings by putting lives at stake is simply immoral.

This, however, does not mean that the blame lies solely with the pilot or the airline company. The air traffic controller (ATC) did not follow due procedures either. Initial investigations show that this lapse was the main reason behind the loss of two lives at the gateway to Mt Everest.

The ATCs based in Lukla can allow aircraft to land or take off only if all four conditions  of  ground visibility, cloud ceiling, wind speed and precipitation are met. Otherwise, the airport should be shut down.

The ATC did not go through this checklist. Instead of closing down the airport, he gave landing permission to the pilot even though at least two of the conditions were not met. Such negligence is unacceptable.

Unfortunately, the ATC or any other airport official cannot be penalised in this case, as international aviation rules bar such actions. But the government must make sure ATCs strictly follow standard operating procedures.

Also, experienced ATCs should be deployed in airports located in difficult terrain. The ATC based in Lukla did not even have a year’s worth of experience. The aviation sector regulator should clarify why such an inexperienced person was deputed at an airport that sees over 160 flights per day during peak mountaineering and trekking seasons in spring and autumn.

Published: 13-06-2017 07:59

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