July 13, 2023
KATHMANDU – In the tourism industry, an air crash—a mountain flight to the top of the world at that—is the mother of all bad news. And when the news of five members of a visiting family perishing in the mountains of Nepal reverberates across the world, it causes a significant dent on the global image of Nepal’s tourism.
And that is exactly what is happening—repeatedly. Just in the past 13 months alone, there have been three major crashes—on May 29 last year, a Tara Air aircraft carrying 22 people crashed on its way to Jomsom from Pokhara, killing 22 aboard; on January 15 this year, a Yeti Airlines aircraft crashed in Pokhara, killing 72 aboard; and on Tuesday, July 11, a Manang Air helicopter crashed near Lamjura in Solukhumbu District, taking the lives of all aboard, including five Mexican tourists and a Nepali pilot. Air safety in Nepal has truly gone for a toss.
As the government forms a probe committee to investigate the latest incident, one cannot but experience déjà vu—a tell-tale of devastating incidents being brushed aside, if not forgotten altogether, until yet another catastrophe. Behind the crashes is a series of mistakes on the part of the government and other stakeholders.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) continues to perform the dual role of aviation regulator and contractor even as calls for its bifurcation continue to come from the global community.
On June 26, Tourism Minister Sudan Kiranti accused Pradeep Adhikari, director general of the country’s aviation regulator, of consistently failing to ensure aviation safety as there have been five aircraft incidents and accidents on his watch, including two major disasters. Tuesday’s accident is the third major disaster during his time. The latest crash yet again lays bare the CAAN’s failure to regulate Nepal’s aviation industry, and reinforces the call for its immediate bifurcation.
The bill to bifurcate the regulatory body continues to face obstruction in the Cabinet, even after it has been passed by the Upper House, pointing to a strong nexus of corrupt individuals and institutions obstructing the bifurcation. The ball is now in the court of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal. It has been a month since the prime minister has kept the proposal to table the bills at the lower house, on hold. Despite showing a keen interest in the CAAN’s bifurcation in the past, the prime minister now seems to be in a mood to wait. If he continues to delay the process, suspicion will grow that the influence of the corrupt nexus that benefits from keeping the CAAN intact has reached all the way to Baluwatar. More than a decade after calls for CAAN’s split were made, there is little progress on this regard, and its direct impact is seen in the deaths of the air passengers and the stunted growth of the tourism industry.
Unless Nepal’s air safety profile undergoes an overhaul, the international community will continue to think that the expensive flights of their nationals to Nepal will just not be worth it considering all the inherent risks. No one would want to spend big sums travelling to Nepal if they are not sure they can return home safely. It is already too late for the government to act to make Nepal’s sky safer.