Last December, Nepal was abuzz with news of the first Nepali made aeroplane. In a country where most of the population has not even boarded an aeroplane, it was no wonder the news caused such sensation. But after the Civil Aviation Authority Nepal (CAAN) refused the aircraft permission to make a test flight, the buzz about the Danfe has died down.
Built by eight mechanical engineering students from the Institute of Engineering at Pulchok Campus, the Danfe was unveiled in front of the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Prithbi Subba Gurung. Team leader Bikash Parajuli says that although the test flight was scheduled for mid-December, CAAN brought up various legal issues and refused to allow it to fly. "Even though this was purely an educational venture and our university project, CAAN's refusal to grant us permission has put all our hard work to waste." Pulchok Campus's IOE chief Ram Chandra Sapkota says that although the campus has already gavin the green light, the government is holding the project back. "The students have attempted something new and the government isn't even giving them permission to test it," says Sapkota. "If the test succeeds, all Nepalis will benefit. The government should be facilitating the test."
Minister Prithbi Gurung claims that despite all his efforts, CAAN inspected the parts and their workings and refused permission for a test flight. He told Nepali Times, "I took a risk and gave them the authority to make a test flight but it was CAAN that stopped them." CAAN's chief director Yagya Prasad Gautam refused to comment and through his personal assistant said that all queries were to be addressed to the ministry and not to CAAN. Even so, an official at CAAN said that the problem was with the process and not the aircraft. The official claimed that unless either a minister, secretary or the cabinet sent a statement in writing giving permission for the flight, CAAN would not allow the flight to take place.
Even though it only took a year to build the plane, there were three years of planning behind it. Mechanical engineering student Parajuli put forth his ideas to childhood friend Ganeshram Sinkeman and together, they drafted a plan. For two years, they researched aeroplanes and after graduating, asked for technical help and manpower from the campus. Avia Club, which conducts commercial flights and is a pilot training school, provided them with an engine, prolevers and various other old aircraft parts. NAST, the Nepal Tourism Board and Nepal Airlines all provided the funding required. "Through various organisations we raised Rs 600,000 but we came up with Rs 400,000 ourselves," says Parajuli.
The rest of the eight member team Ramesh Ranabhat, Rabindra Shrestha, Dinesh Poudyal, Baburam Kharel, Anil Maharjan and Prashant Malla, all gave their services voluntarily. Aeronautical engineer Uday Krishna Shrestha helped the students with the technical and mechanical aspects. They named the aircraft Danfe, after our national bird. Danfe can hold two people, fly up to 200km in the air at 100km per hour, theoretically.
Faced at first with incredulity at the idea of building an aircraft in Nepal, Bikash says that if the testing went through then with a few more years of research, Nepali hands could be building fully-fledged aircrafts. With an average construction cost of around Rs 2 million, aircraft like these could be a boon for those living in remote hilly areas and could also be a major tourist attraction.
Bikash says that he has fulfilled all the legal requirements for permission. Although Nepal's air code on aviation sports is quite simple, so as to better accommodate micro light flights, hang gliding, heliskiing and hot air ballooning, CAAN says that the International Civil Aviation Board restricts test flights. Parajuli, on the other hand, claims that ICAB has a provision that allows the government to issue permission.
There's even a senior Russian captain, Alexander Maximo, on call to fly the aeroplane. Maximo has been flying planes for the past twenty years and upon seeing the aircraft, gave his word that he would fly in from Russia at any moment.
With the aircraft gathering dust, the students are disappointed and feel incomplete that they haven't been allowed a test flight. Danfe's future is hazy at the moment as only a test flight would tell if it was capable of long distance flight or not. Says Parajuli, "Danfe is an aircraft. How can we feel proud of our achievement when it hasn't even flown?"