Aircraft crash in Pokhara: The agonizing biggest domestic air crash must take us beyond blame game, and do something concrete

Kathmandu: The Pokhara bound flight—691 9N –ANC ATR 72— with 72 onboard burst into flames around 10:57 am, a couple of minutes after its last communication with the air traffic tower, on Sunday.

Confirmed death of 71,  and unlikely chances of remaining one surviving, has eclipsed the country with shock, and a huge tragedy.

Sunday’s crash of Yeti Airlines ATR-72  created a record in the domestic sector going by the size of the loss of life in its nearly 75 year old aviation history. The only two bigger tragedies in Nepal had taken place in 1992 in a two month gap involving the Thai and Pakistan Airlines aircraft.

How matching was the government action to the intensity of the tragedy is one thing, but the government definitely appreciated the downpour of grief from the people’s side and announced national mourning.

But the way to deal with such tragedies has to be different, with the key objective not to let them happen again, and taking all the necessary precautions.

It ordered the mandatory investigation into the incidents, but again the natural question will be what have the governments done with such reports in the past?

The airline in question, has contributed to the highest number of accidents –fatal and non-fatal—in the country.

The European Union has blacklisted Nepali airlines in their sky, and safety audit team is due to come here to review the issue. But the message that the Sunday crash will give in advance is obvious.

Most such reports in the past accidents have pointed at the ‘human error’ as the cause of accident, but this conclusion is also not free from questioning. What has the government and the airlines concerned, as well as the regulatory authority done to punish the surviving ‘wrong doers’?  Has any measures been taken to ensure minimizing human errors from operating, regulating and service providing bodies?

Experts have been demanding that callousness in ensuring airworthiness of the aircraft in operation could be one factor causing accidents.

Why is the government not ready to bifurcate the responsibility of operation and regulation to two different agencies than bestowing it to the single agency—Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal?

In normal weather conditions, flights scheduled are expected to be maintained rigorously as otherwise, it will have chain effects. Airport authorities not allowing flights beyond the airports capacity to welcome them safely is one discipline that needs to be maintained.

But in Nepal, holding the aircraft for longer period is something almost every passenger—domestic or international—must have experienced. Each second of that additional ‘hold over’ is an added risk to a passenger indicating poor regulatory administration.

The domestic passengers have to wait for hours even to get informed of the cancellation of their flights. Whether such lack of seriousness increases the risk factor is one thing, but that certainly makes them hostile towards the airlines concerned which no serious and ethical business would be happy with.

According to Sanjeev Gautam, former Director General of Nepal Civil
Aviation, rather than focusing on a particular incident we need to follow holistic approach to scrutinize the system. Quoting the total of 5 audits by ICAO in Nepal, Gautam (at talk show Fireside) stated that the Civil Aviation sector in Nepal is oriented much towards the service provision than the safety regulations.

It adds the voice to what experts were saying was the need for clear separation of authority in operation and regulation. The responsibilities should not be single handed by civil aviation authority.