Sangam Prasain, The Kathmandu Post, November 18, 2019
Nepal’s score for effective implementation of accident investigation is still 18.68 percent, which is far below the global average of 57.43 percent.
Kathmandu, The International Civil Aviation Organisation will conduct a full safety audit in Nepal from May 10-20 under its universal safety oversight audit programme, sources privy to the matter said. The last such assessment was done 10 years ago.
According to two sources who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity, officials of the Montréal-based UN specialised agency will check if Nepal’s civil aviation body has followed the recommended practices and standards for airline safety, and addressed previously identified safety concerns.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation will look into eight critical elements of aviation safety — primary legislation; organisation and safety oversight functions; personnel licensing; aircraft operations; airworthiness of aircraft; aerodromes; air navigation system and accident and incident investigation.
A team from the International Civil Aviation Organisation will audit the Tourism Ministry’s progress in aircraft accident and incident investigation, as it is responsible for monitoring developments in accident investigation techniques and practices as well as accident prevention matters.
The remaining seven elements fall under the responsibility of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal.
“We have started work by designating experts in the respective fields,” said a senior official at Nepal’s civil aviation regulatory body. “We have nearly 1,200 protocol questions that need to be answered in the audit,” he said. “The auditors check the evidence on the field and close the case. If it is not resolved, it gives us time to improve.”
Protocol questions are the primary tool used in the audit for assessing the effective implementation of the eight critical elements of a state’s safety oversight system.
Based on the audit, the International Civil Aviation Organisation awards Nepal a score for effective implementation of safety standards.
During the last audit on May 14, 2009, the International Civil Aviation Organisation gave Nepal a score of 46 percent in effective implementation of critical elements of the safety oversight system, which was way below the global average of 60 percent.
In July 2013, a mission visited Nepal to validate the corrective measures taken by the country to address the deficiencies pointed out by the global aviation watchdog in 2009. It detected several lapses during an on-site audit held from July 10-16, and the International Civil Aviation Organisation gave a significant safety concern tag to Nepal’s aviation sector in its audit report in August 2013.
The 2013 audit report pointed out that Nepal’s score of 54.97 percent was still far below the global average. The Montréal-based agency raised the red flag on operations among the eight critical elements of safety oversight due to a sharp rise in the number of air accidents and incidents between 2009 and 2012.
Based on the significant safety concern tag, the European Commission blacklisted all Nepali carriers in December 2013 for the worst record in air safety oversight.
On March 31, an off-site validation team again gave Nepal a score of 58.4 percent in effective implementation of critical elements of the safety oversight system.
In July 2017, the Montréal-based agency-coordinated validation mission gave Nepal a score of 66 percent for effective implementation of safety standards — way above the global standard of 60 percent. It also withdrew the significant safety concern tag given to Nepal’s aviation sector.
“We need to be careful about safety as its indicators keep on fluctuating all the time. The score for effective implementation of safety standards in India and Bhutan has dropped while in Sri Lanka, it has improved drastically,” a safety expert at the civil aviation body said.
According to an internal audit conducted by the regulator, Nepal in the current position can achieve a 52 percent score for effective implementation of safety standards.
Another official at the Civil Aviation Authority said Nepal’s safety indicators had improved much after the enforcement of the Civil Aviation (Aircraft Accident) Investigation Regulation 2014, which gave legal authority to an independent body to probe aviation accidents and incidents. It was followed by the publication of a procedure manual of aircraft accident and incident investigation in 2018.
Nepal’s score for effective implementation of accident investigation is still 18.68 percent, which is far below the global average of 57.43 percent. “This is because the Tourism Ministry has an aircraft accident and incident investigation section but it does not have an independent role,” the official said.
“An investigation commission is set up on an ad hoc basis whenever there is an accident or incident,” he said, adding that no training was provided to the investigators. Various aviation watch dogs have suggested forming a permanent investigation body or a bureau for a long time. “Most of the time, the ministry has been delegating responsibility to investigate aircraft incidents and accidents to the regulator.”
Under the state system and function too, there are also issues concerning a clear demarcation of the role of the Tourism Ministry and the Civil Aviation Authority.