The recent devastating plane crash in Nepal claimed the lives of 71 people. However, this was not the only one.
Nepal has had a history of frequent plane crashes
Nepal, a country situated in the Himalayas is known across the world for its natural beauty and incredible Himalayan views. The country is said to have more than 50 mountains including Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain and Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. Being the best tourism destination for mountaineers and hikers because of the hilly terrain and mountains, the topography of the country is also one of the main reasons as to why the country faces several aviation disasters.
The recent Pokhara crash of January 15, 2023, where a passenger plane carrying 72 people onboard crashed ten seconds before landing is not the first aviation accident of the country. Nepal has seen a series of fatal and deadly aviation incidents and accidents. The question regarding civil aviation security and safety of the passengers has risen many times, with no possible outcome.
Pokhara airport which was Nepal’s leading domestic airport was recently converted into Pokhara International Airport, the country’s third international airport and was inaugurated by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda', starting its operations on January 1, 2023. The airport is a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and was thus constructed with Chinese assistance.
The recent tragic crash has added to the long record of aviation accidents of the country. It is one of the deadliest crashes of the country, with no survivors. As per the Aviation Safety Network, since the early 1990s, Nepal has seen more than 30 deadly air crashes. Owing to the state of Nepal’s aviation industry, the European Union has denied permission to all Nepalese airline operators to conduct air flights. One might wonder about the causes of the frequent aviation disaster which is being faced by the country.
According to a 2019 assessment from Nepal's Civil Aviation Authority, the two major issues with air safety are the hostile topography and the second issue is the weather. The weather conditions have remained outside the forecast capacity. Cloud cover, low visibility, uncertain weather, high wind are the reasons why most of the flights are delayed. The weather remains unpredictable due to the country’s difficult topography and geographical problems, which result in risks to aviation operations in Nepal. The Tara Air flight that crashed on May 29, 2022 was caused due to the bad weather conditions.
Nepal has some of the most difficult and isolated runways in the world, with runaways surrounded by massive mountains that pose a challenge for seasoned pilots as well. The Tenzing-Hillary Airport is the world's most dangerous airport in the world as it only has a single runway. The runway is built into a cliffside between two mountains and ends abruptly in an abyss.
A high-altitude takeoff and landing are necessary due to Nepal's hilly terrain. Due to the low air density, an airplane's speed is hampered and slowing down becomes more complex.
Given the fact that Nepal is still one of the poorest countries in Asia, it lacks infrastructure and fails to provide proper training to the pilots. Their pilot training programs may not be as advanced as those offered in western nations. The infrastructure is insufficient with no GPS (Global Positioning System) and satellite navigation.
The civil aviation agency of the country has its own set of problems as well. Though efforts have been made by international organizations to ensure safety regulations and proper functioning of the civil aviation agency. The government agency plays both the role of being a regulator and being a service provider.
Since 2009, The International Civil Aviation Organisation, an agency of the United Nations, and the European Commission have encouraged Nepal to divide the powers of the civil aviation authority into a service provider and a regulator, in order to avoid a conflict of interest. Given that the aviation’s twin role creates a conflict of interest and affects its functioning. The government announced a Three-Year Interim Plan; however, the plan was never put into action. A retired director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal made a statement indicating that the internal politics in the agency might have affected the passing of the bill. Another former official has stated, “The efforts made over decades to implement effective safety mechanisms in the aviation industry are being foiled by a handful of opportunist people…”
However, over the years, Nepal has adopted measures and shown significant progress in the safety regulations, but the safety record still falls short of what other civil aviation authorities consider to be acceptable. Nepal has still a long way to go to improve its aviation industry. Even if it manages to implement and develop safety measures, the country will not be able to control the extremely difficult weather conditions. The country has yet to give these accidents and incidents the essential consideration and investigation.