Off the wing: Repeated negligence kills new aviation minister’s hope of reviving Nepal Airlines

File: A Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) aircraft
File: A Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) aircraft

After Sudan Kirati was appointed the Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister, he went to the head office of Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) and told the employees how he was forced to hang his head in shame due to the airlines twice. Requesting the staff to not make mistakes, he told them that he wanted to be proud of Nepal Airlines.

But the serial cases of carelessness by the NAC staff that are being made public recently are making a mockery of the request by the minister.

Negligent Nepal Airlines

File: A wide-body aircraft of Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC)
File: A widebody aircraft of Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC)

Nepal Airlines Corporation is the country’s national flag carrier. It flies passengers, both Nepali and foreigners, to 10 destinations. Since it is government-owned, it also has the responsibility to fly to all domestic airports in the country.

But incidents like the aircraft’s tyre getting lost and its engine being found in a foreign country are still fresh in memory, which goes to show how careless the staff and the organisation have been in recent times.

In the first week of April, Nepali Airlines delayed a Kathmandu-Dubai flight by around 11 hours as a pilot assigned to the flight reported sick at the 11th hour. Later, the corporation suspended senior pilot RK Sherchan for the delay.

On March 20, 2023, during the Taplejung-Kathmandu flight, the aircraft was carrying more than the specified weight. On the same flight, a male passenger was incorrectly registered as a woman.

To ensure this would not repeat, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal grounded seven people and took action against crew members, the flight attendant, the station chief of Taplejung Airport and the employees of the corporation assigned to Kathmandu Airport.

After a few weeks, the authority suspended two maintenance staff members who left the cockpit window of the widebody Airbus 330 open all night.

On March 20 also, Election Commission Secretary Gokarna Mani Duwadee tweeted a picture of his bag. “The first gift after reaching Delhi via Nepal Airlines was a broken luggage that was left lying on the ground. Who will take responsibility for it?” he questioned.

Meanwhile, the government has asked NAC Executive Chairman Youb Raj Adhikari for an explanation regarding the non-compliance with the prescribed rules within the airport area. According to the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, Adhikari was asked for an explanation after it was found that he was not wearing a safety jacket and did not have a pass to enter the restricted area.

How is carelessness handled?

According to Jagannath Niraula, the CAAN spokesperson, these activities within Nepal Airlines Corporation create a question not only about the corporation but about the overall air safety in the country.  

“The standards set to ensure flight safety should be strictly followed. A small negligence can lead to a big incident tomorrow,” Niraula says, “That’s why the authority is closely monitoring such incidents.”

According to the authority, after it receives grievances and complaints about flight safety, the involved employees are suspended from work. Then the investigations and studies are conducted. 

During that time, the authority also calls the pilots, engineers and other staff members and takes their statements. Niraula says that CAAN decides whether it wants to suspend the involved personnel or even revoke their licences. 

In the past, there were many complaints about such incidents. However, the authority and the corporation did not make it public. 

In recent times, however, the authority has started making such actions public so that the general public can know about them. The authority believes that when it is made public in this way, other stakeholders will also be aware of the incident.

According to Ganesh Kumar Ghimire, the Nepal Airlines assistant spokesperson, the corporation regularly trains employees to ensure that such incidents do not repeat. 

He says that any incidents that occur after that will be dealt with in accordance with the rules of the authority. He says that in the case of broken luggage, the passenger will be compensated and it should be considered a normal mistake at work.

“A baggage is not solely our fault,” he says, “If it is old and has been over-packed, there is a possibility that it will break when they are placed on the plane or when they are moved, it cannot be called gross negligence.”

But regardless of such explanations, there are reports that the minister is not satisfied and wants to fire the leading officials including Youb Raj Adhikari. He has already asked the leadership to furnish another clarification.

This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.

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Puri is a business correspondent at Onlinekhabar.

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