As the country is still struggling to come to terms after the killing of 72 people in a crash of a plane belonging to the Yeti Airlines in Pokhara nine days ago, the public have vigorously raised concerns over the safety of air travel in Nepal. It was the worst domestic air accident the country ever faced. The scale of loss, shock and distress from the tragic accident is beyond imagination. So it is natural to debate the competency of Nepali aviation sector to maintain air safety standards strictly so that air passengers fly to their destinations confidently. Speaking to different media platforms, the seasoned pilots are presenting various hypotheses to explain the causes behind this fatal accident. Most of them have pointed to the human error that plunged the ATR-72 aircraft into a gorge of the Seti River. The people have little knowledge of the technical aspects of aviation. What they want is the safe air travel and timely arrival in their destined places.
Travel by air is considered safer means of transportation globally but the frequent air crashes in Nepal send a chill down the spine of air passengers, with multiple negative implications for travel and tourism industry. In its Aviation Safety Report 2022, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has stated that the country saw plane accidents in every year of the past decade except for 2021. Altogether 60 aviation catastrophes took place since 1960. Of them, 14 planes of Yeti Group were involved. The repeated air crashes indicate systemic faults of the aviation sector, which calls for thorough investigation of inherent causes and their credible solution.
Experts also point their finger at the structure and responsibilities of the CAAN that acts as both the regulator of civil aviation and service provider in the areas of air navigation services and aerodrome operations. This dual role of CAAN creates a conflict of objectives in the sector. The international practice does not allow the same agency to be law enforcer as well as service provider at the same time. The European Union has demanded that CAAN be split into two separate entities to perform these tasks as a condition to remove its ban on Nepali airlines in its sky. In 2009, Nepal expressed its commitment to divide up the CAAN but has been unable to do so in the absence of needed legislation in place. Owing to Nepal's poor score in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) safety audit, the EU has continued decade-long ban on the Nepali carriers through the EU Air Safety List updated in November.
In order to meet the EU's demand, Nepal government prepared two bills - the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal Bill and the Air Service Authority of Nepal Bill, which were endorsed by the National Assembly but the House of Representatives failed to do so as it was disrupted owing to its dissolution twice. The CAAN has set up to two separate wings to regulate as well as provide aviation service but this is unlikely to meet global standards. The CAAN is also facing an acute shortage of trained human resources. As a result, the aviation body has found it difficult to fulfil its overstretched tasks. It is high time the political leadership became serious about meeting the EU's demand and helped resolve the legal, bureaucratic and other structural glitches facing the aviation sector. This is necessary to ensure air safety and boost the image of national carriers abroad.