Nepali Times
A safer sky


What caused the Sita Air accident is still unknown. In addition to Nepali investigation, two British air crash investigators are also helping.
Air crashes have been happening with frightening regularity, and with tragic consequences. Last week's disaster of a Sita Air Dornier 228 that crashed and burned on takeoff from Kathmandu on a flight to Lukla killing all 19 on board, proved once more that we have learnt none of the lessons from past crashes.

Nepal's horrendous air safety record has done incalculable damage to the reputation of a country whose economy depends on tourism. It is time to go to the root of the malaise, find out the underlying reasons for this poor safety record, and take urgent steps to ensure a safer sky. All we have been doing is talking, blaming, and speculating. How many more people need to die before we act?

As always, there has been a flurry of speculation about what happened to the Dornier on Friday morning. We won't know for sure until the report of the investigation team comes out, and this time there are two British air crash investigators also helping.

From preliminary evidence it seems a bird hit the plane on takeoff, and parts of the propeller or wing ricocheted off to hit the control surfaces of the plane. The Dornier 228 is a sturdy German-made turboprop designed to fly on one engine, but something happened to prevent the pilot from turning back to make an emergency landing.

BACK TO REALITY: The Sita Air crash seems to have been the first known fatal crash caused by a bird strike.

Another aspect that the investigators must turn their attention to is the practice of aircraft overloading on flights to remote area airstrips in Nepal. Most flights to Lukla are on the heavier side either because of deliberate overloading, or under-calculation. Airlines use a 75kg average to calculate the weight of male foreigners, but in reality most are above 80kg. Baggage allowance is 15kg, but up to 20kg is allowed. Passengers also have carry-on bags with heavy trekking gear. In addition, airlines also make money on cargo and there is a tendency to pack it in. Most STOL aircraft in Nepal are overweight, but the extra weight never shows in the load sheets given to pilots.

In the days after the Sita Air crash, civil aviation inspectors conducted spot ramp checks to examine for overloading and found several instances of extra weight on planes. These checks happen after every crash, and then slowly they are forgotten. Spot checks and inspections should have continuity.

As with most accidents, last week's crash was also followed by grisly live tv coverage of the accident scene with unedited footage of half-burnt corpses. If mainstream television channels were bad, the pictures on Facebook and blogs were much worse. The media needs to strictly implement guidelines on visuals, respect the dignity of the dead and recognise the sensitivity of what they are broadcasting. People also need to speak out in social media and ostracise those posting gruesome images.

TRAGIC TIMES: The practice of aircraft overloading on flights to remote area airstrips in Nepal is common.

We know that the real reasons for frequent air crashes in Nepal are lax enforcement of flight rules, regulatory failures, lack of internal checks and balances within airlines. We can eliminate up to 90 per cent of crashes in the future if we just act now to:

1. Stop political interference in pilot selection, licencing, and other aviation matters. Politicians, keep your hands off a profession of which you know nothing about.
2. The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) must take its regulatory role more seriously and deploy tough, independent inspectors to conduct regular checks of operators and blacklist those who overlook safety issues.
3. Stop the practice of new airlines inducting old planes.
4. Follow strict international guidelines on pilot discipline and confidential reporting of detrimental crew behaviour.
6. Regulate the cut-throat competition among airlines that forces them to fly in bad weather or with technical snags, and cut corners on safety.
7. Avoid conflict of interest and ban airline owners and promoters from serving in the CAAN board.

Captain Vijay Lama has been flying Twin Otters and Boeing 757s for Nepal Airlines for the last 24 years.

Read also:
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See also:
"I don't want any more Sarahs to die"
Nepali Times gathered a panel of experts on Monday to discuss Nepal's appalling aviation safety record, and to suggest remedial measures

1. Bill
Overloading is an endemic problem at Nepalese airports because there is corruption, greed and a fatalistic attitude towards life. It is the same culture as the one that allows 120 people on a bus that can seat only 60. As an expat living in Nepal, I can tell you that air and highway travel will never be safer until this culture is changed.  

2. wtf
no fluff, just stuff...precisely to the point article...I wish the ones who matter read many deaths can be prevent by following some simple rules

3. SuRa
Capt Vijay is absolutely right but I am still appalled at his target estimation of flight safety to 90% which plainly overlooks the importance of 10% risk of losing lives on the face of it !! 10% chance of losing is awful lot. I would never travel an airline that has such a poor record !

What in the hell is CAAN doing in Nepal ?

4. SBS
No one seems to mention the fact that (I think) the Captain / Crew did a fantastic / amazing job in the few seconds they had to to try and control the aircraft and steer it away from the human settlement.  Not a single life was lost or injury happened on ground apart from the ill fated passengers and crew.  Great job Captain! May you RIP!

5. charlie

In my country nepal, there are lots of flight accident, i belive this is the main cause of alcohal and poor management in safety works and may be especial weight, because just bribe and every thing is possible. but there  may be poor safety management too who knows, but accidents occurs techinically too but man those old plane and poor safety management and  drunk pilot man u will die fokatai  so i request all nepali citizen and all foreign tourist use only renouned carrier or cancelled your trip which saves your life and i am sure there must be mandatory  zero point alcohal for pilot and crew member then there will be decrease in air accident i belive, plz avoid those old plane carrier plz .

6. KPahari
Captain Vijay Lama, you've hit the nail on the head! You need to try and get CAAN to implement some of your ideas. Well written. 

7. Pakhrin Bal
Capt Lama is right. He not only pointed out the inherent problems but placed his suggestions too for improvements. I have personally witnessed many a times that the check in counters have slipped in a bag or two into the luggage load without recording them for a money under the table. Of all the airlines, Nepal Airlines is the worst in this regard. Perhaps the excellent suggestions made by Capt Lama should begin with the airlines where he works and lead the way. 
Not just a heightened check up after a crash, but a constant monitoring and adherence of rules are needed.  Knowing our authorities well, I can bet that the chances of it happening in a regular way is very slim. We just have to wait till another disaster. By the time the investigation report of a crash comes out, it will have faded from the memory of the people, except for the ones who lost their near and dears.
Based on the safety record and practices, we need to de-recognize an airlines. Irony is that nobody cares in Nepal for safety of travelers? Overloaded buses kill thousands of people. I am afraid only when foreign agencies or governments start issuing warning to certain airlines practices and advise their citizens not to travel, then only the Nepal government and tourism entrepreneurs will take it seriously.

8. Salil P
How do we sell Nepal as a tourist destination when the authorities turn a blind eye towards these preventable accidents? Every tourist would think twice before including Nepal in their itinerary. No matter how beautiful a country is and how scenic the places are, it is not worth risking one's life for. Licences for airline operations need to be more strict and if necessary confiscated till they meet a certain level. No tourist should lose his / her life in Nepal and no Nepali life should be sacrificed on these avoidable mishaps.

9. Mingma Sherpa
The article is well written and covers all the issues regarding air safety? I totally agree that such graphic images should neither be aired on TV nor on social networking sites. The CAAN should go through this article and learn something.

10. sona sherpa
A very well written article by Captain Vijay Lama, I hope the people responsible for this carnage is brought to book and that the guilty officials who let this accident happen are brought to justice. 

11. annonymous

The People working in CAAN, ones who are responsible for enforcing the rules (yes, the rules are there, in Black and white, and there are some people who are qualified and capable) sadly work for the Airline Companies. The important appointments are filled WITH the consent of some of Airline Bosses who finance their transfers, not to mention numourous favours that are endowed including giving jobs in their companies to the niece and nephews. And everyone inside the indusry knows who the Notorious ones are!

The pilots are just the innocent bystandards who are caught along in this Mafia-dom. Without the protection of a comprehensive safety envolope that the aviation industry worldover has learned and applied after a century, whether it's Operating rules, Adequate Training, or Upgrade of Navigation equipments and ficitities, a pilot cannot do much on his/her own.

After all, they also have to bring food to their table!

12. Chwapuka S
1. Capt. Vijaya Lama's write-up is hundred percent correct. But seems to overlook that sometimes the Pilots themselves could be glove-in-hand with the staff 'slipping' extra weight in the plane. However, our Pilots are Super and non-comparable in the matter of flying in such terrain like in Nepal.
2. On the comment of Mingmar agreeing with Capt Lama about the reporting, it seems very mandatory to let these type of reporters/photographer to visit "Ethics of Journalissm"
3. On the comment 10. - bringing those culprits from Civil Aviation fraternity will be just day dreaming. This comment also stand valid for the comment of Annonymus. 
4. The comment of Bill is commendable on deep rooted corruption. There is saying in hindi " Baap Kahe na Bhaiyya, Sabse Bada Rupaiyah."
HATS-Off Capt Lama  

13. Lopchan
Jati karaaye ni tettikai ho, kehi hunewala chhaina

It seems when it comes to public sector, safety, cleanliness and competence are only in the books for us Nepalis. 
Those who run our tourism industry, aviation, immigration and customs are part of our national shame. What Nepal is in need is of good managers, not technicians. At the airport, they can't even keep the toilets clean. There is a loud volume of TV going on. Shame on you airportwala and tourismwala. Nepal ko natural scenery becher garib janatalai k diyau? Maowaadee lyaayau. 
Shouldn't the business people who have their shutters and show rooms should at least take the responsibility to keep their 20 yards front space and footpath clean? Why must they look upon the incompetent Municipality?

14. Dorji Tsering Sherpa
It is been two years since my youngest daughter passed away in a plane accident so I know what hardship we the victims has to go through. We had conducted a peace rally around Durbar Marga to alert the concerned airline company and the monitoring body of the civil aviation authority of Nepal and the Ministry of Tourism. No one is concerned, neither the airline company nor the so called monitoring body CAAN. Lives are lost and airline get away with their insurance money and the so called investigation teams have a nice time traveling and enjoying their allowances during these three months. At the end a one page report is submitted which will never see the light of the day and languish somewhere in the dust filled racks of the MOTCA. Captain Lama has pointed out some very pertinent issues but as always who is to bell the CAT? ( air operator or the lapse on the part of the CAAN).

15. Bhaje
"10. sona sherpa
A very well written article by Captain Vijay Lama, I hope the people responsible for this carnage is brought to book and that the guilty officials who let this accident happen are brought to justice. "

Unfortunately, lots of people will have to go behind bars.
Airline people, airport staff, trekking agents, you name it, possibly some of our relatives, who's sole argument is:
"ke garne, this is Nepal".
These Dornier have no right to fly anymore anywhere in the world (and their maintenance is more tricky than that of Twin Otters - older planes even)

CAAN is a disgrace, thanks political support and business greed, average level of domestic pilots is dropping year after years (politics and business again)

Captain Lama is awfully right. But the same mess is going on since long. The "people's war" made it even worst. Nepal lost 20 years.

16. yam gurung

Can we bring Girija Koirala from the the dead for the corruption charge?

Is Capt Lama or others crew members are happy to stay in cheaper hotels when they are in flying overseas flight like to Hong Kong etc.

One must set the example to inhance the Nepal tourism etc.

If you are pointing index finger to someone,your other fingers are pointing at you.

17. A Joshy
The basic fact we all need to understand that Pilot is the person who flies an aircraft. For example, if we are driving a vehicle and it encounters an accident, then obviously our fault unless there is any mechanical failure. Aviation accident history world-wide reveals that root cause of the most of the accidents is the human error i.e. pilot error. Try to accept this fact.

18. N Gurung
Failure of safety oversight is the main problem in Nepal. Persons without professionalism try to run the sensitive business like airlines operation. Corrupt official of Tourism Ministry issues them licenses and corrupt officials of CAAN issues them operating certificate. At present, the person responsible for flight safety is a person who run airport for last 20 years. He don't know any thing about airworthiness and flight operations. Neither he belongs to that profession. He is there to make money keeping Flight Safety in the stake. Then how can general public assure about flight safety?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)