After a series of fatal air crashes in Nepal, the European Commission announced last week that all Nepali airlines would be added to its list of banned operators. Ed Douglas reports on the implications for trekkers and climbers – and the hope that aviation safety in Nepal may now improve.
The EU Air Safety Committee’s decision to add all Nepali airlines to its list of banned operators was a shock but hardly a surprise. There have been seven fatal air crashes in Nepal in the last five years, including the Sita Air crash in September 2012 in which 19 people died, including seven British trekkers on their way to Everest.
‘The current safety situation in Nepal does not leave us any other choice than to put all of its carriers on the EU air-safety list,’ transport commissioner Siim Kallas said in a statement on Thursday. ‘We do hope that this ban will help the aviation authorities to improve aviation safety.’ The commission has asked the European Aviation Safety Agency to prepare an aviation-safety assistance project for Nepal, Kallas added.
Although there have been no fatal accidents in 2013 – apart from a micro-light crash in which the Nepali pilot and a Chinese tourist died – there have been three serious incidents in which aircraft were written off. In June, Sita Air lost another Dornier 228 aircraft after it crash landed at Simikot in western Nepal, and in the most serious incident six passengers and crew were seriously injured in a crash at Jomsom in Mustang district.
As a consequence of the ban, all Nepali carriers are prevented from flying into or within the European Union. Although Nepal Airlines flies internationally, none of its destinations are within the EU, so the ban will not have an immediate effect on operations. However, the EU requires operators and travel agents to inform European travellers, who have a right to reimbursement if they have booked a seat on a Nepali carrier and decide not to use it.
Nepal has received repeated warnings from aviation authorities than it was failing to meet safety standards. In 2009, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) audited Nepal’s aviation sector and not only found it deficient in meeting most safety standards, but also judged Nepal’s aviation authority as being incapable of enforcing improvements. Since that report, 95 people have died in Nepali air crashes. Nepali authorities have acknowledged that the EU has been warning them of its concerns for several years.
Although news of the ban has been greeted with alarm among Kathmandu tour operators, the impact for climbers and trekkers still prepared to fly with Nepali airlines may not be too onerous. Mark Leaderman is head of operations at UK-based adventure travel operator Wild Frontiers. The company specialises in visiting adventurous destinations, some of which carry travel advisories from the FCO.
‘We have to make sure clients are made aware of things like this and there may be implications in cost in terms of insurance,’ he said. Other trekking and climbing operators told the BMC they were checking about the impact on their liability insurance.
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