Nepal starts preparations for ICAO's aviation safety auditIn 2017, the global safety watchdog withdrew the significant safety concern tag given to the country’s aviation sector.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is expected to conduct a full safety audit of Nepal’s aviation sector next April. The last such assessment by the aviation safety watchdog of the United Nations was done in 2009.
Raj Kumar Chhetri, spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, told the Post that they had started preparations for the big event, and were constantly holding meetings with area counterparts. A separate steering committee has been formed, led by Bhola Prasad Guragain, deputy director general of the aviation regulator.
ICAO's Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme Continuous Monitoring Approach (USOAP CMA) focuses on a state's capability to provide safety oversight by assessing whether it has effectively and consistently implemented the critical elements of the safety oversight system.
The decennial full safety audit of Nepal’s aviation sector was to have been conducted in 2019, but the government had asked to defer it by a year.
The reason for the postponement was to give the government time to complete institutional reform of the sector: Splitting the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal into two different entities—regulator and service provider.
As per international norms, the same entity cannot be both service provider and regulator, two roles the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal has been performing currently by providing airport services and also overseeing compliance with aviation regulations.
Such dual functions lead to a conflict of interest, the European Commission, for example, has maintained.
ICAO had agreed to the request for the year-long deferment, and had planned to conduct a full safety audit of Nepal from May 10-20, 2020.
Covid-19 further pushed back the schedule. The ICAO team was expected to arrive for an audit on March 21, 2021, but due to the pandemic and consequent border closures, the plan was shelved once again.
“Now the UN agency has published a bulletin for South Asia, including Nepal. They will send official letters four months prior to the proposed audit date to the respective countries,” said an official at the civil aviation regulator. “Accordingly, we have started preparations from our side. The global aviation safety watchdog will start its audit from zero.”
ICAO will look into eight critical elements of aviation safety—primary legislation; organisation and safety oversight functions; personnel licensing; aircraft operations; airworthiness of aircraft; aerodromes; air navigation system; and accident and incident investigation.
Out of the eight critical elements, accident and incident investigation comes under the responsibility of the Civil Aviation Ministry, as it is responsible for monitoring developments in accident investigation techniques and practices as well as accident prevention matters.
Based on the audit, ICAO will award Nepal a score for effective implementation of safety standards.
During the last audit on May 14, 2009, ICAO gave Nepal a score of 46 percent in the effective implementation of critical elements of the safety oversight system, which was way below the global average of 60 percent.
In July 2013, a mission visited Nepal to validate the corrective measures taken by the country to address the deficiencies pointed out by the global aviation watchdog in 2009.
It detected several lapses during an on-site audit held from July 10-16, and ICAO gave a “significant safety concern” tag to Nepal’s aviation sector in its audit report in August 2013.
The 2013 audit report pointed out that Nepal’s score of 54.97 percent was still far below the global average. The Montréal-based agency raised the red flag on operations among the eight critical elements of safety oversight due to a sharp rise in the number of air accidents and incidents between 2009 and 2012.
Based on the significant safety concern tag, the European Commission blacklisted all Nepali carriers in December 2013 for the worst record in air safety oversight.
On March 31, an off-site validation team again gave Nepal a score of 58.4 percent in the effective implementation of critical elements of the safety oversight system.
Nepal invited the next audit in 2017 to observe the progress of its safety enhancement effort.
In July 2017, the ICAO-coordinated validation mission gave Nepal a score of 66 percent for effective implementation of safety standards—way above the global standard of 60 percent. That same year, ICAO withdrew the significant safety concern tag given to Nepal’s aviation sector.
According to an internal audit of the country’s civil aviation body, Nepal in its current position can achieve a 67 percent score for effective implementation of safety standards.
The safety indicators keep fluctuating all the time.