The Nepali sky is safe with highly qualified technical manpower involved in the domestic aviation sector who are also capable of competing in the global arena. However, due to repeated air accidents, a number of questions have been raised about the safety situation of the domestic aviation sector. President of Airlines Operators Association of Nepal Captain Rameshwor Thapa spoke to Eliza Manandhar about the current scenario and the future of the domestic aviation industry.
What is the present scenario of the Nepali aviation industry?
The Nepali aviation industry is more like a basic need for people who are living in the remote hilly areas where air transportation is the only means of transportation due to lack of proper infrastructure for surface travel. The domestic aviation sector is also more influenced by tourists visiting such areas. It has become an essential medium for transportation though there are still a number of doubts regarding its sustainability.
What are the main factors hindering the growth of domestic aviation sector?
The perennial domestic problems, uncertain political scenario, and lack of proper infrastructure are the major factors that have been directly affecting the growth of the domestic aviation industry. Unless the government is more serious in effectively developing the infrastructure and maintaining the existing airports, the domestic aviation industry will never take off.
What is the situation of our regional airports? Are they fully equipped to handle the domestic air pressure?
There are only four controlled airfields in our country which are the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), and Bhairahawa, Nepalgunj, and Biratnagar airports. Apart from TIA, all the other controlled airfields are for domestic operation and are quite well equipped with navigational equipment. Due to the runway alignment of the Pokhara airport, it cannot be equipped with navigational equipment and even if done so it will not be feasible. Other major domestic airports of the country that are Lukla, Dolpa, Humla, Taplejung, and Mugu have recently been black-topped but these airports still need to be further upgraded. These airports do not have navigational equipment. Besides these airports most of the domestic airports are compelled to handle flights on a grass runway.
What is the reason behind frequent air accidents in the domestic sector and how can they be controlled?
There is no particular reason for air accidents in the domestic aviation industry. Our country has a varying topography, which makes it one of the most attractive tourist destinations but at the same time this very attraction becomes a reason behind the air accidents. Sometimes it is the environmental condition due to which air accidents occur. Our technical manpower is highly qualified. However, at times over-confidence of pilots is also noted as a reason behind air accidents. It happens mainly when the pilot does not heed the warning of Air Traffic Controllers. We need to install weather-monitoring equipment in the aircraft and should work on arranging proper training programmes for domestic pilots to avoid human error.
The accident report of Sita Air that took place on September 28, 2012, reveals that it happened mainly due to aircraft being overloaded. What is your say?
Overload is also a kind of human error. A pilot should never compromise on the weight of an aircraft. They have authority to reject or approve the aircraft flight log-list before operating the flight. A pilot should monitor the overall process before approving the flight log and should check if documents are properly maintained.
What is the future of our domestic aviation industry?
Our sky is safe and the aviation industry here is a land of opportunities, therefore, domestic airline companies should not compromise on enhancing safety and should gradually start installing proper equipment for a safer flight. We have highly qualified technical manpower who can provide quality service globally but we need a more liberal sky policy.