Nepal makes history with its first legal same-sex marriage in Lamjung, a significant step towards inclusivity and equal rights.
Nepal’s spotty air safety record has been blighted further following the death of six people in a helicopter crash in the Everest region soon after take-off on Tuesday. Often described as the world’s most unsafe country for civil aviation, and with as many as 20 of its airlines banned from operating in European Union countries, Nepal has long battled with safety issues without ever seeming to have found solutions. Since 1955, there have been 69 air crashes in the country, 45 of them leading to fatalities. Experts say there are three principal reasons for the sorry state of the country’s civil aviation. First, the terrain is mountainous and flight operations are treacherous, especially during the monsoons.
But in contrast, Bhutan, which shares many of the topographical features and weather conditions of its neighbour, has a far more impressive record with air safety, despite its main airport at Paro being considered one of the most difficult in the world to negotiate, and with only a handful of pilots licensed to land there. Conditions at many Nepalese airports are primitive and pilots must use Visual Flying Rules to navigate. But weather conditions sometimes force them to break these rules. The other factor is that many Nepalese aircraft are old, and while this by itself ought not to render them unfit for flying, their maintenance needs are high and operators may choose to cut corners. While all commercial aircraft must pass certification tests, concerns have been voiced at the thoroughness of such scrutiny in Nepal, especially with older aircraft. In the wake of a crash last year of a 43-year-old De Havilland Otter that killed 22 people, authorities had announced plans to reduce the maximum age of aircraft imported into the country to 10 years in the case of pressurized craft and 15 years for non-pressurised craft. But in January this year, a 15-year-old aircraft of Yeti Air crashed, killing 72 people. The third factor that plagues civil aviation in the country is that despite a recommendation of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, Nepal’s civil aviation operator plays the twin roles of a regulator and operator. In fact, this is one reason why the EU decided to blacklist Nepalese aircraft using its airspace in 2013.
Unless these roles are split, and the regulator is granted sufficient autonomy to check airworthiness of civilian aircraft, not much can be expected. As things stand, passengers must board Nepalese civilian aircraft with hope in their hearts and prayers on their lips. Aviation authorities in a country often described as among the prettiest in the world owe it to their citizens, and to visitors who spend their dollars there, to ensure higher safety standards. Nepal should not fight shy of seeking help from its neighbours who have far better safety records. The present state of affairs must not continue.