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Kathmandu plane crash tragedy shows Nepal air travel is as high-risk as ever

All Nepali airlines are banned from the EU on safety grounds  

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 12 March 2018 18:00 GMT
Kathmmandu plane crash: Devastating footage shows aftermath of deadly crash at Nepal international airport

Twenty-four hours after the fatal crash of a US-Bangla aircraft at Kathmandu airport in Nepal, the Bangladeshi airline’s website still boasts “Fly Fast – Fly Safe”.

The Nepali authorities are investigating the cause of the ninth fatal accident in eight years in the mountainous kingdom. But it is difficult to have full confidence in the work of the Nepal Aircraft Accident Investigation Commission and the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal.

All the nation’s airlines are banned from the EU because safety officials do not trust the regulator.

The European Union Air Safety List is actually a Danger List. The register comprises the airlines, mostly little-known, which fail to “adhere to the applicable international safety standards”.

Among the several hundred airlines banned from flying to the EU are “All air carriers certified by the authorities with responsibility for regulatory oversight of Nepal”.

Only one of the 17 airlines on the blacklist, Royal Nepal, has ever flown to the UK. At present it is banned, along with 16 others.

In an era where aviation in many parts of the world is becoming ever safer, crashes in Nepal continue to haunt the headlines. The tragedies tend to follow a fatal pattern, usually involving small propeller planes in poor weather.

In August 2010, 14 people lost their lives on an Agni Air domestic flight from Kathmandu to Lukla, which had turned back due to bad weather at Lukla. In 2012, a similar sequence of events killed 15 of the 21 people aboard another Agni Air flight that had been unable to land at Jomson and was returning to Pokhara.

Twenty-two more lives were lost in a Tara Air Twin Otter during a domestic flight to Kathmandu in December 2010.

In September 2011, 19 people lost their lives on the approach to Kathmandu on a Buddha Air Beechcraft 1900.

A year later, seven British passengers were among the 19 people who died aboard a Sita Air Dornier 228 that came down shortly after take off from Kathmandu, destination Lukla. They were at the start of a three-week trek organised by Explore. The crash was blamed on “a combination of factors, including an overweight aircraft with too much luggage stowed on board”.

The tragedies continued in 2014, when a Nepal Airways Twin Otter was lost between Pokhara and Jumla, killing all 18. And in 2016 the same plane type, operated by Tara Air, crashed en route from Pokhara to Jomsom. Twenty-three lives were lost.

Two days later, an Air Kasthamandap plane with 11 passengers on board crashed while flying between Nepalgunj and Jumla. Two members of the crew were killed.

The International Civil Aviation Organization is seeking to reduce the death toll. It says: “The country’s beautiful but rugged terrain makes the safety of air operations more challenging than in other areas of the world.”

To compound the risks, the country’s domestic airlines tend to use old, ill-maintained aircraft, with inadequate training in and enforcement of international aviation standards. So there is little hope that this litany of tragedy will end soon.

Travellers to the mountain kingdom must continue to weigh the risks of flying – while remaining aware that the roads are lethal, too, with an accident rate six times higher than in the UK.

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