Melbourne. Yeti Airlines ATR 72-500 aircraft crashed in Pokhara, central Nepal on 15 January 2023, killing at least 69 people on board. The plane was on its way from Nepal’s capital Kathmandu to Pokhara, the country’s second largest city. While the country’s picturesque landscape attracts tourists, it also poses significant challenges to aviation operators, who must operate and navigate aircraft in challenging environments. Sunday’s air crash was Nepal’s worst aviation tragedy since 1992. The country is working to overcome its challenges in the aviation sector.
a challenging landscape
The topography has gifted Nepal with picturesque landscapes but has also presented unique challenges for flight operations. Nepal, located between India and China, is home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Mount Everest or Sagarmatha. For flight operations, it is an almost inhospitable, harsh environment with sudden weather changes that can create dangerous conditions. Airports built in mountainous regions often require short runways that can only accommodate turboprop-powered regional aircraft, rather than larger jets that can reach Nepal’s larger cities. As a result, there are different types of aircraft in the fleet of aviation carriers in Nepal. These vary from situation to situation, presenting potential security threats. The ATR 72 aircraft is a typical aircraft used by the Nepalese carriers. It is a turboprop-powered regional airliner with a capacity of between 44 and 78 passengers. These aircraft are manufactured by a joint venture between Airbus in France and Leonardo in Italy. The aircraft involved in this accident had been in service for 15 years, a fairly normal age for an aircraft. A final report on what happened to this ill-fated Yeti Airlines flight will take more than a month to complete.
A growing and rapidly changing industry
Nepal has welcomed private investment in its aviation sector since 1992. Yeti Airlines is one of 20 domestic carriers. The airline headquartered in Kathmandu flies to ten domestic destinations using ATR 72-500 aircraft. Apart from this, 29 international airlines also operate in the capital of Nepal. With air travel becoming more accessible and affordable in Nepal, the development of airport infrastructure has lagged far behind the development of air traffic. This has resulted in overcrowding at airports, fare competition among airlines, and reduced security. In fact, the country has recorded at least 350 casualties in accidents involving airplanes or helicopters since 2000, raising questions about the effectiveness of its aviation safety regulations. The aviation regulator in charge is the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, a government agency established in 1998.
working hard to improve
Nepal became a member of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) of the United Nations in 1960. This membership obliges the country to follow international conventions, ICAO rules, standards and recommended practices in aviation safety. While Nepal’s aviation industry has made significant efforts to improve safety, unfortunately the safety record still does not match the requirements of other civil aviation authorities. Notably, the European Union banned all Nepalese airlines from operating in the bloc’s airspace in 2013 after being warned by ICAO. That ban has not yet been lifted, and Nepal remains on the EU’s air safety list. Despite the sad accident record, Nepal has stepped up its efforts to improve aviation safety. The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal is focusing on improving safety in Nepali aviation – such as improving construction at airports, upgrading safety equipment, and fostering a positive safety culture by encouraging hazard reporting. Nepal’s considerable improvement in safety measures and compliance with international standards was recognized by ICAO in 2018. However, the country must continue working on its aviation reforms to make its skies safe for all.
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