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Editorial: Plane truths

Editorial: Plane truths

The Tara Air Twin Otter crash near Jomsom that killed 22 people on board is a grim reminder of the challenges of flying over Nepal’s uneven terrains and navigating its unpredictable weather. Following the crash, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has issued a new directive whereby planes can fly only if the weather of the entire route is clear. Earlier, only the state of the weather at the take-off and landing sites were factored in. This should make the Nepali skies safer in the otherwise accident-prone pre-monsoon and monsoon seasons. Yet that too will be no foolproof guarantee against accidents. 

Besides highlighting the dangers of navigating Nepal’s treacherous terrains, the tragic accident on May 30 has again put a spotlight on the country’s failure to properly monitor and regulate its civil aviation sector. Most aircraft accidents in Nepal are attributed to ‘pilot’s error’ and yet it is hard to think of a single tangible measure that has been taken to minimize such errors. In fact, there are reports of pilots being put under pressure to fly even in bad weather. Nepal is also yet to take one safety measure that could have the biggest impact on air-safety: separate the regulatory and service-providing arms of CAAN. The merging of these duties in one organization creates conflict of interest and increases the chances of grave accidents. 

Nepal has made an improvement in the international civil aviation regulator ICAO’s safety audit scores (but not in the investigation of air-crashes, a measure in which the country’s scores got worse). Yet due to its failure to split up CAAN, the country’s carriers are still banned from European skies. The ban in turn dissuades European travelers from visiting Nepal, a tourism dependent country. 

As the charred bodies of crew and passengers are still being identified, this is not the right time to apportion blame. Why the Twin Otter crashed will be known only after a thorough study. But this is certainly the right time to ask why we as a country are not doing more to minimize the frequency of such tragedies.