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Don’t blame the pilots, please!

By D.M.Thapa
The people heard with shock about two deadly air accidents in the country. Luckily there were no passengers on both the flights.
One flight of Goma Air was preparing to land in the difficult Lukla airport when it crashed and both of the pilots died. The other crash took place in difficult terrain and only the senior pilot died. This ill-fated plane belonged to the Nepal Army and it was also carrying cargo destined for Humla in Far Western Nepal was crashed when the aircraft overshoot at the Bajura airport. The co-pilot and one warrant officer survived.
In the Goma Air accident the single air hostess survived and in the Nepal Army aircraft accident two crew members survived, but these three must have undergone a severe traumatic experience and it may take a long time for them to fully recover.
But what causes frequent air mishaps in Nepal? Like in all other nations of the world, the pilots are blamed. But Nepal has some of the best pilots in comparison to other countries. The terrain is difficult, no doubt about that, but look at the record of Nepal Airline Corporation which was called RNAC before, it has virtually a perfect safety record compared to other international airlines.
There is no doubt even the pilots who do internal flights are also good as flying to places like Lukla and Bajura isa no joke. It requires immense skill in flying and perhaps pilots in other countries have never had to fly in such difficult terrain.
But I remember a young pilot in America who flew a small aircraft in which we were travelling at a very low altitude to avoid the bad weather. In fact he also collected our baggage, so he seemed to be a lone ranger! He flew quite smoothly and we reached with comfort to Nevada.
In Nepal, I remember a time when just to go to Pokhara, the pilot had to land the DC 3 (Dakota) ina very difficult landing field in Gorkha, then we flew again and landed in Bharatpur and finally we reached Pokhara. Imagine, now it takes only about 20 minutes to reach Pokhara and the airport in Gorkha has been closed for decades. Were it not for the foreigners who come to visit Namche Bazar or go to the Everest Base Camp, probably Lukla airport would also have been closed.
I say this because I also remember there were airports in remote areas like Baglun and Rolpa to give just two examples. Late king Mahendra had the vision to build airports, even if they could accommodate only small aircrafts, because there were no road accesses to these places. I am happy that people can travel by motorcycles or four wheelers to such remote areas now, but at the same time I am saddened to see the scars created by these unplanned roads in this once lush and unpolluted land.
I myself grew up in Kathmandu which was also untouched by many concrete jungles, but due to greedy land brokers and the naïveness of the local residents, this place has also become virtually unlivable.
I also remember the time when the gateway for most Nepalese who had to go abroad was through Calcutta in India. After RNAC bought its first jet, a Boeing 727 more flying options came for the Nepalis. It was also Thai Airways which became the first international airline that opened ways to come in or fly out of Nepal. Not that many Nepalese went abroad at that time and unlike now there was no question of youths going to foreign lands to seek jobs or a better future. Now people go all across the world to America, like old folks used to go to Benaras, as a yearly ritual, to come back with a sad face because all they had to do was baby sit and wait for weekends for their children to take them out.
Now to come back to the two tragic accidents that took place, where foreigners want to go most, it would do well if international organizations don’t call Nepali skies as dangerous and discourage others from coming, but it would be helping Nepal to build safer airports at such remote areas.
It is not for nothing most well-meaning Christians say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and nagging wives dig their husband’s grave. So don’t blame the brave pilots who fly in such dangerous terrain every day, but try to make the landing area more safe, either with donations from the foreign critics or from our own resources.

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