Nepal has been facing a flight ban in the European Union (EU)'s skies for the last nine years. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the EU together put Nepal on the 'blacklist'. The ICAO removed Nepal from the blacklist in 2017 citing improvements in airspace security.
But the EU has not removed it yet. Recently, EU representatives inspected Nepal's airspace. Nepal requested them to remove the blacklist even during that period. Director General of Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) Pradeep Adhikari says there is no point in keeping Nepal on the blacklist as there have been improvements in Nepal's airspace.
Nepalkhabar talked to Pradeep Adhikari, Director General of the CAAN, for his views on the EU air ban, and preparations for Nepal-US direct flights among others. Excerpts:
Since 2013, Nepal has been facing the EU air ban. Is it going to be removed from the blacklist?
We cannot say that Nepal is not on the blacklist of the European Union (EU). It is still on the safety list. There were three reasons for being on the safety list. First, there were frequent plane crashes in Nepal. Second, air safety inspection capacity fell below the global average. The third was a 'Significant Safety Concern' (SSC). As the ICAO removed it from the SSC in 2017, the third reason for placing it on the safety list has been removed. The second reason is that air safety inspection capacity was 54 percent in 2013. Now we have reached 70 percent. This is above the global average. Frequent accidents in the Nepali sky have also gone down now. Hence, there is no point in keeping it on the safety list.
It has been heard from the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the authorities of the CAAN that the EU has set the condition of dividing the authority into regulatory and service bodies. Will Nepal be removed from EU's flight ban prior to splitting CAAN?
The EU has not said that the Civil Aviation Authority should be split. The EU has not discussed the law that requires placing it on the safety list. The three problems identified by the EU have been resolved now. Do not run after gossip. The statement that the CAAN will be removed from the EU’s air safety list only after splitting it is baseless.
American aviation officials also came to Nepal to inspect the airspace, recently. What did they say about Nepal's airspace?
Only the ICAO has the authority to audit air service safety. Neither the EU nor the US has the authority to audit Nepal's air service security. This is a matter related to the sovereignty of the country. But if a country is trying to send its aircraft to fly, what is the facility of that country? Everyone may be interested in what the level of security is. How is the airport? How much attention do regulatory authorities pay to security? Everyone is curious know whether they help us or not. The American official came to Nepal during the necessary preparations for the direct air service agreement between Nepal and the United States. Prior to that, discussions were held with American officials in Korea and Montreal (headquarters of the International Aviation Organization). It is good to have a discussion about direct flights between Nepal and America.
What benefits can Nepal's airspace get if it is removed from the EU's blacklist?
Nepal is a country with great potential for tourism. Nepal being on EU's safety list has had a bad impact on tourism. As soon as it is removed from the safety list, the propaganda that it is blacklisted will be removed. The message that "Nepal is open for all" goes around the world.
On the other hand, if the safety list is removed, planes from Europe would easily come to Nepal. However, it depends on the airline whether the Nepali planes are ready to go or not. How much benefit we can get also depends on the national flag carrier.
Let's change the context. It has been five months since Gautam Buddha International Airport came into operation. Jazeera Air started daily flights. The flight, however, was canceled three days after it began flights apparently due to lack of passengers from Bhairahawa. Couldn't you coordinate it?
The job of the CAAN is not to open a labor approval office. The country has gone to a federal setup. There are provincial capitals. The concerned body has to fulfill the responsibility itself. It is because of the lack of labor permits in Bhairahawa that Jazeera is not getting passengers. It has been decided to hold a meeting under the chairmanship of the chief secretary regarding the labor approval and the officials of the relevant agencies. A circular has been issued to all agencies. Hopefully, after Tihar, if we remove the problem surrounding labor approval in coordination with the bodies concerned, there will be no shortage of passengers from Bhairahawa.
The government has already announced that it will run Pokhara Regional Airport from January. What kinds of preparations have been made to operate the airport?
At the current condition of the airport in Pokhara, the plane cannot fly at night. We call it the capital of tourism. When Pokhara's new airport comes into operation, domestic passengers will benefit the most. Issues including security have started to arise at the current airport. Now there is no reason for not opening Pokhara Airport just because we could not operate Bhairahawa Airport properly. Discussions are underway with certain airlines for international flights in Pokhara. Airport business requires a combination of labor, tourism, police, security personnel, and businessmen.
Preparations are underway to build Nepal's largest international airport in Nijgadh. The expert committee has submitted a report stating that an international airport can be built in Nijgadh. How will this construction process move ahead?
We have no intention of delaying the construction at Nijgadh. Nijgadh International Airport is our dream. The construction of Nijgadh Airport should be given priority. Flying at Tribhuvan International Airport all night can be disturbing to many people. But unfortunately, we have not been able to expedite the process. Sometimes, it stops because of resources and sometimes because of environmental issues.
Where has the process reached now?
The construction process has reached the Council of Ministers. The cabinet meeting yet to take an official decision on it. The decision could not be taken, perhaps, due to the upcoming elections. The report of the expert team formed by the government has said that there is no option but to build the airport at Nijgadh.