Taking air safety seriously in Nepal

As an airline captain with more than 16,000 flight hours in Nepal, I can say with confidence that flying in the Himalaya is one of the most challenging in the world because of the terrain and weather.

However, we have strict protocols for safety and rules that govern when and where we are allowed to fly. These rules are laid down by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN).

In addition, the crew of every carrier including our own Buddha Air adhere to our own safety procedures to reduce risk. As an ATR instructor captain, I have the added responsibility to ensure that other pilots in our airline are also up to date with their training and experience.

Post-pandemic, more and more Nepalis are flying within the country. In addition to regular safety features on an aircraft, airlines have also had to introduce Covid-prevention health protocols to prevent outbreaks.

Like all airline captains, we also follow an aircraft’s checklist at various points during a flight, there are standard operating procedures as well as the sequence of cockpit interventions that are necessary during an emergency.

In fact, cockpit crew are required to follow these procedures so strictly that they cannot even over-ride them under pressure from management, government or anyone.

The flying crew decides on the basis of weather at the departure and destination airports as well as en route weather and at alternate airports, to undertake a flight or not. No one can pressure the pilots to fly when the weather parameters are out of bounds. In the past 22 years I have been flying with Buddha Air, I have never faced such pressure.

The risks will always be there. Although flying is the safest form of transport, there are still safety concerns that need to be addressed. However, these are managed and minimised by the aircraft manufacturing company, flight safety protocols and strict regulations from international and national aviation agencies.

For example, if I have a flight at 7am, by the time I arrive at the airport the Engineering Department will have checked all aircraft systems thoroughly and signed off on it, declaring it ‘fit to fly’. They do these checks after every flight, there are daily checks, as well as weekly, and C- and D- airworthiness inspections during which the aircraft is completely overhauled and parts mandatorily replaced.

After this, the ground crew goes through the necessary paperwork, checking fuel on board, weather, souls on board, cargo and baggage weight, etc. It is only after this that the captain takes responsibility for the aircraft and does a ‘walk around’ inspection.

These checks are not ad hoc, and not random – they follow the manufacturer’s and CAAN’s guidelines. We then double check the weather at the destination airport, as well as in two alternative airports. This includes factors like cloud cover, rain, visibility and wind velocity and direction.

Modern aircraft also have triple redundancies, meaning that if one system should fail there are backups. For example if one of the engines in a twin turboprop fails, the plane can still take off and land.

All pilots at Buddha Air have to do a refresher course on simulators every six months, practicing emergency drills that follow international norms. This means there are no short-cuts, and there is no way that the carrier can bypass protocols and safety regulations.

Despite this, I often see reports in the media that are not accurate and sensationalise various aspects of aviation. Journalists unfamiliar with aircraft systems and airline procedures often post inaccurate and misleading information.

For example, an aircraft aborting take-off is not necessarily an emergency. A go-around on approach due to wind or other factors is not a serious incident. These things happen all the time all over the world every day. In fact, they prove that the carrier in question is following safety procedures while reacting to a given situation.

There is no need to panic the public with ill-informed information when a flight is diverted, or if there is moderate to severe turbulence during a journey. Posts on social media tend to exaggerate these experiences, and spread rumours about imaginary dangers.

When passengers get on a flight, they just see the aircraft they are boarding. Many do not see all the processes and actions that have taken place to make that piece of transportation equipment safe and comfortable to travel in.

It is not just Buddha Air that is required to follow these rules and protocols. All Nepali carriers have to follow all of CAAN’s and ICAO’s guidelines on airworthiness and ground handling and flight operations.

Bon voyage, and we wish you a comfortable flight.

Capt Manoj KC has 22 years of flying on Buddha Air’s Raytheon Beechcraft 1900 D and ATR-72 500 aircraft with more than 16,000 flight hours. 

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