Safety culture in Nepal not adequate, need to develop infrastructure, says pilot

The plane crashed into a river gorge while landing at the Pokhara airport in Nepal. The plane was carrying 72 people included four crew members and five Indians among the foreign nationals. 

However, this is not the first crash which was seen. The country has witnessed a total 17 plane crashes since 2000 and have killed 273 people.

The last such tragedy Nepal saw was in May 2022 when 22 people onboard a Tara Air plane were killed after it crashed in Mustang district.

Why does the country witness frequent air crashes? 

Nepal has the world’s most remote and tricky runways, with approaches flanked by towering mountains that challenge even accomplished pilots.

As the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal stated in a 2019 report: “…diversity of weather patterns together with hostile topography are the main challenges surrounding aircraft operations in Nepal due to which the number of accidents related to small aircraft….seems comparatively higher.”

Also Read: Timeline: Nepal air crashes since 2010

Captain Amit Singh, commercial pilot and founder of Safety Matters Foundation while speaking to news agency ANI said that Nepal needs to develop its infrastructure to face risks related to flying in mountainous areas. 

He further stressed that it is a very challenging terrain and the training standards of the crew must be high.

Also Read: Nepal plane crash

“Nepal is a very challenging terrain, and especially Kathmandu. Kathmandu is a valley, it is like a bowl and the airport is in between, surrounded by mountains, high mountains on all sides. So it is a very challenging airfield. And particularly so if it is challenging, the safety standards must be higher,” Captain Amit Singh told ANI.

He added, “The training standards of the crew must be high and the safety margins must be high. So if there is any suspicion that there’s a technical problem, so the crew must not persist or continue with the flight. And on airing on the side of safety, they must come back and investigate.”

Captain Singh further said, “So the entire mountainous area of Kathmandu and Nepal is very challenging, especially in cloudy conditions. Their infrastructure is not adequate for navigation with GPS or satellite navigation and approaches. So they have to develop their infrastructure to match up with the risk associated with flying in mountainous areas. Infrastructure, environment. Have safety concentrate.”

Singh said that they have witnessed a number of accidents due to flying into high risk areas of valleys. He said that the safety culture in Nepal is “not adequate.” He said that Nepal needs to strengthen its safety standards.

“In the past we have seen number of accidents happening because of flying into valleys or high-risk areas, mountainous areas, under poor weather conditions or overshooting the runway. So this safety culture in Nepal is not suitable or adequate and the international bodies have said so,” he said.

“Nepal cannot fly to, for example, the US or Europe because they will not accept any airline which is downgraded to category two, which means their safety is not guaranteed. So if these things have been happening for so many years, serious reload has to be done by Nepal to bring up their safety standard,” he added.

Speaking about the latest plane crash, he said, “Prima Facie what we see here is from the flight radar data and the visuals are soon after takeoff from Kathmandu, the airspeed and altitude indications have gone totally berserk, which are not normal indications.”

He further said, “Like for example, the altitude shows 40,000 ft, whereas the service ceiling of the aircraft is 25 and the airspeed also is going up and down. So clearly this is an indication of unreliable airspeed, which is the topmost concern of ICAO, the UN body in terms of safety.” 

Further explaining, he stated, “We see the aircraft going first nose up then suddenly the left wing drops the aircraft comes down crashing. So this is also consistent with what happens in an unreliable speed leading to a stall. So the question here is when the indications were wrong at take off, why didn’t the crew come back, what were the compulsions, and why did they carry on till Pokhara?”

He further said, “They almost reached the airport and close to the airport the aircraft stalled and crashed. So all these things will be confirmed after the preliminary and final investigation. But prima Facie it is a mechanical failure and human compulsions of continuing with the flight leading to an accident. Very unfortunate.”

Captain Amit Singh said that the black box will reveal what went wrong as the flight recorder will give details about the parameters, and the communication between the crew. He said that these details will be revealed only after the CVR and FDR, which is a part of the black box. He added that the preliminary report comes after 30 days. 

Meanwhile, Nepal’s Yeti airlines says it has cancelled all regular flights for January 16 after the Sunday crash incident. The Pokhara International Airport, which witnessed the fatal crash of a Nepalese passenger plane with 72 people onboard on Sunday, was inaugurated two weeks ago by Nepal’s newly-appointed Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and built with Chinese assistance. The flagship project was part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) cooperation.

(With inputs from ANI)

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