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Challenges of flying in Nepal: A pilot’s perspective

Feb 08 2016 | 11:19 am

By Captain Bed Upreti

Flying is often said to be the safest form of transport. According to the Civil Aviation Authority, the fatality rate per billion kilometres travelled by plane is 0.003 compared to 0.27 by rail and 2.57 by car. Statistically, there are more chances of being killed riding a bicycle or motorcycle or even by lighting. The chances of dying in an air crash in US or in Europe are estimated to be 29 million to one. Even flying in Nepal is pretty safe. However the flying environment in Nepal is highly demanding due to high terrain, unpredictable weather pattern and poor navigation system on ground. I flew Cessana Caravan, HS-748 and ATR in Nepal as a pilot. From my flying experience in Nepal, I found out that flying in Nepal is extremely difficult. The safety margin for pilots in Nepal is very less. I have also been flying in many countries of the world such as India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Middle East, Europe and USA in commercial, ferry or training flights. Flying in all those countries are much easier than Nepal.

The only international airport of Nepal – the Tribhuwan International Airport (TIA)- is in Kathmandu. It is a very challenging airport for most of the pilots (especially foreign pilots) because of the bowel shape of the Valley, which does not support Instrument Landing System (ILS). However, the majority of pilots of international airlines operating in Kathmandu are more comfortable to land in ILS equipped airports. Further complicating the matter, TIA has only VOR/DME and RNP-AR landing system. Most of the airports in hill and mountain regions of Nepal are extremely critical as well as challenging. According to National Geographical Channel, Lukla in Nepal’s mountainous region is the most critical airfield in the world.

Air Safety in Nepal

Nepal’s aviation safety record of the last 15 years is poor. However, safety standards have been greatly improved in the last 2 years. It is true that due to a number of tragic air crashes in the past, Nepal surely has poor air safety record. Generally speaking, “pilot error” is considered to be the main cause of 90 percent of fatal air crashes in the world. Pilot error, however, is a result of two factors: tactical error and operational error. Tactical errors are attributed directly to a pilot’s behaviour and operational error is an instructional error during training.

Pilot error does not mean that only pilots should be blamed for the accidents. There are many factors which are responsible for pilots to commit such fatal mistakes. Generally, poor training, weak aviation regulation, use of very old aircrafts, challenging weather condition, pilot’s behaviour and poor management are the leading causes for pilot error, which leads to air crashes. Crew Resource Management (CRM) should also be considered while talking about pilot error. In Nepal, we must give more emphasis on CRM training and develop Monsoon Training each year during pre-monsoon. Monsoon training for pilots should be made compulsory in Nepal because most of the air crashes here have occurred during the monsoon period.

Improving Situation

Nepal must take positively the European Union’s ban on the Nepalese airlines to enter European airspace solely because there are still many complex issues concerning Nepalese aviation which needs to be addressed immediately for the betterment of the sector. After Nepal was black-listed, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) together with all the Nepalese airlines are continuously working hard to improve air safety in Nepal. A mission from the European Aviation safety Agency (EASA) is providing technical assistance to Nepal to support its effort to improve air safety in Nepal. The brand new Airbus of Nepal Airlines, LET aircrafts of Goma Air and Viking DHC6-400 twin otter of Tara Air speak a lot about the seriousness towards aviation industry in Nepal. The very successful turbo prop ATR-42/72 and Beach-1900 of Buddha Air are other examples of better flying machines operating in Nepal. The safety culture in Nepal has changed significantly, especially after Nepal got black-listed. So we should try to see the proverbial silver lining in the dark cloud and play a positive and honest role from for improving aviation safety in Nepal.

Captain Upreti is currently an Instructor/ Examiner /Ground Instructor/Simulator Instructor at  Wings Abadi (Lion Air) in Indonesia. The article first appeared in APD. 


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