Why is Nepal the world’s most dangerous place to fly?
It is vital that the Nepalese government continues to revisit its safety standards and procedures.
By Bilal Mustikhan
Nepal, the home to eight of the fourteen highest mountains in the world, attracts tourists from all around the globe. It is a small country in South Asia, with a population of approximately 30 million people. According to the Nepal Tourism Board, more than 600,000 tourists visited Nepal in 2022, compared to the 230,000 tourists visited the Himalayan country in 2020.
While for some, the adrenaline rush begins once they start climbing, for many, the clock starts to tick as soon as they board the flight for Nepal. The country holds the world’s worst aviation safety records, falling under the category of the world’s most dangerous place to fly. Hence, one is more likely to die on board an airplane than on a mountain.
According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Nepal is classified as a Category 2 state, meaning that it has significant safety concerns related to its aviation infrastructure, regulatory oversight, and/or operational practices.
There have been several high-profile aviation accidents in Nepal in recent years, which have highlighted the dangers of flying in the country. In 2018, a US-Bangla Airlines flight crashed while attempting to land at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, killing 51 people on board. The accident was caused by pilot error and miscommunication with air traffic control.
In 2019, a helicopter carrying seven people, including the Minister of Culture, crashed in the mountains in eastern Nepal, killing everyone on board. The accident was caused by poor weather conditions and the challenging terrain in the area.
The most recent nosedive of Yeti Airlines in central Nepal in January 2023 has alarmed tourists worldwide and compelled the sane ones to change their itinerary. The seventy people who died in this fatal crash are among a total of 357 passengers who have died in 19 commercial airline crashes in Nepal since 2023. This means that the probability of an airline crashing in Nepal every year is alarmingly high.
The above statistics compel us to ponder why Nepal is the world’s most dangerous place to fly. The most obvious blame would fall on the mountains and the nature of the land itself. Nepal is a home to the Himalayas, which means that planes need to maintain an extraordinary altitude. According to AvLaw, an aviation consultancy firm, the elevated airports are located in remote areas and the nature of the air makes it challenging for airplanes to take off and land as they would in any normal circumstance. Pilots also need to receive extensive training to navigate through challenging terrain during take-off and landing.
Besides the terrain, the unpredictable weather patterns also make landing and taking off an ordeal task as many pilots use visual references from outside to control and navigate their plane. Pilots follow Visual Flights Rules to steer their planes but sometimes, they need to circumvent these rules on their flight path.
For example, they are advised to avoid clouds but cannot always manage to do so because of the unpredictability of the weather. This is especially true during the heavy monsoon rains- during this time, visibility is low because of cloud cover and fog, making flying even more difficult. These factors, combined with limited infrastructure and resources, can create challenging conditions for pilots, air traffic controllers, and airport staff.
Other than tall peaks and weather patterns, the designs and models of the plane are another reason behind terrible flight crashes. At least 68 airplane accidents have been recorded by the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal since 1955. A major reason behind these crashes is the planes in use are old and outdated.
While these planes are maintained from time to time, they still cannot compete with the latest planes. Airlines also prefer buying used planes as it allows them to maintain their ticket prices. The lack of modern navigation and communication equipment makes it difficult for airports to coordinate flights. Some airports in Nepal do not have radar systems or modern navigation aids, making it more difficult for pilots to navigate and communicate with air traffic controllers. This can increase the risk of accidents, especially in adverse weather conditions.
While updating the planes in a timely manner is important, the airports along with their safety infrastructure also need to be revamped. A vast majority of the airports have short landing strips – the Tenzing-Hillary airport near the Mount Everest Base camp has a single landing strip that slopes downhill. It is no wonder it is considered the most dangerous airport in the world. The state of Nepal’s Civil Aviation infrastructure and lack of innovation have alerted many countries around the world. This has resulted in the European Commission banning more than 20 Nepali airlines from flying into Europe.
Despite the challenges of flying in Nepal, the country remains an important destination for tourism and business. The Nepalese government has taken steps to improve the safety of the aviation industry in the country, including upgrading airport infrastructure, modernizing navigation and communication equipment, and providing training to pilots and air traffic controllers.
It is vital that the Nepalese government continues to revisit its safety standards and procedures. The standards can be improved with the help of better and more advanced equipment, coupled with training staff members so that they understand how to deal with the precarious weather and terrain. The decades-old planes should be equipped with modern navigation systems and must be satellite guided. Pilots and air traffic controllers must be made aware of these challenges and take all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of their flights when flying in Nepal. These minor changes can go a long way in enhancing Nepal’s aviation system, making it a safe place for tourists to visit.
Courtesy: South Asia
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Coverpage’s editorial stance.
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