Buddha Air’s flight was delayed because minister’s aide misinformed airport about their location, sources sayTwo officials familiar with the conversation between Nepalgunj airport and the airline’s office in Kathmandu said the additional delay was caused by protesting passengers
Nepali politicians are infamous for being late, whether it is during public programmes or official meetings. They are also equally notorious for holding the traffic and delaying flights, as priorities are given to VIP movements.
On Saturday, the Buddha Air flight bound for Kathmandu from Nepalgunj was delayed by at least 26 minutes. When Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai and his entourage finally boarded the plane, passengers soon started filming the minister as well as the ensuing chaos inside the plane, as several people accused Bhattarai of being an insensitive politician.
“You are the Minister for Culture and you don’t have any civility,” a passenger said, as heard in one of the videos posted on Twitter.
The video has since been shared over a thousand times on Twitter and Facebook and has sparked a conversation over the discomfort and inconveniences ordinary people have to face during VIP travel.
Bhattarai and his entourage were late to board the plane because they were returning from the inauguration of the Dolphin Festival in Tikapur, and didn’t reach the airport on time.
Two operations officials at Buddha Air, both of whom asked not to be named because they were not allowed to speak on the issue, told the Post that the problem began after the minister’s party misinformed the airlines on their whereabouts.
According to the official, Bhattarai’s aide called Prem Nath Thakur, the chief of the Nepalgunj Airport, saying that the minister may be delayed by five minutes as he was in Dhambojhi, around six kilometres away from the airport.
“Thakur then relayed the message to the air traffic control tower to communicate with the Buddha Air’s station manager,” the official told the Post.
The traffic controllers informed the manager that the minister may be delayed for “a few minutes,” after which the station manager that he had a green signal from the headquarters in Kathmandu to hold the flight—if it was only a case of five minutes.
The Buddha Air flight was scheduled to take off from Nepalgunj Airport at 6:40 pm but it took off at 7:06.
But the operations officer at Buddha Air said the minister’s aide had lied, and that they were very far from the airport at the time the call was made to hold the plane.
“The minister would have been near Gulariya when his aide first made contact with the airport,” he said. “We started boarding the passengers based on the information that the minister was in Dhambojhi.”
But the minister did not arrive within five minutes, as his aide had promised.
“Our operators then contacted the minister at least three times after the first five minutes elapsed,” the second official told the Post. By the time the minister finally arrived, tensions were already high inside the plane, and several people came down the aisle, chanting slogans against Bhattarai.
“The flight captain told us that he may wait for a few minutes more after we requested him. He said that it was the last flight and there was no weather problem,” said Thakur, the airport manager. “But it was not an hour delay. It was for about 15 minutes.”
Thakur said that it took several minutes to request passengers that had deboarded the plane to protest. There was no way flight could take off during a tense situation inside and outside the plane,” said Thakur.
Aviation experts say regardless of what the minister’s aide said—lied or misinformed—it was a mistake on the part of the airline to delay the flight.
“Both Buddha Air and Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal violated the standard operating procedures," said Kumar Chalise, an aeronautical engineer who earlier served at the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal. “This incident also raises a question: if a minister can stop the plane, why can’t an ordinary citizen?"
According to Chalise, since such incidents keep on happening in Nepal, there is a need to enforce the Montreal Convention in domestic airlines. “Enforcing the Montreal Convention will mean passengers will get compensation in case of delays deliberately caused by airline companies.”
On Sunday, as the video continued to be shared by several hundred starting early morning, Bhattarai posted a message on his Facebook page and apologized to the passengers for causing the delay. However, he also accused some people of causing a ruckus because the flight was delayed.
Neither the airport nor the airlines have issued any statements on why, and for exactly how long, the flight was delayed. “When Bhattarai issued a statement apologizing for the delay and the time and the reason for the delay, we didn’t see it as necessary to issue a separate statement,” an official at the airline told The Post.
This wasn’t the first time Buddha Air had faced the situation. In April, Minister for Communications and Information Technology Gokul Prasad Baskota had asked the airline to wait for him for a few minutes, but the airline left without him.
“Scheduled flights cannot be delayed unless there is a technical or weather problem,” said Chalise. “That's why airlines and civil aviation authorities worldwide ask passengers to report an hour or two before the flight.”