Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Air Crash in Jomsom: Should we stop flying?

Photograph from BBC NEWS

On Monday morning, a Dornier aircraft operated by Agni Air, crashed in the slopes around Jomsom Airport in Mustang, Nepal. Jomsom is a hub for trekkers and in the famous Annapurna Circuit. 16 Indian pilgrims to the Muktinath Temple died in the crash, along with the pilot and co-pilot, while six passengers, two Danes, the air hostess, and two Indian infants miraculously survived the crash.

LINKS: Read this news on Nepalnews, Kantipur and BBC

Aviation accidents are not uncommon in Nepal, this is true, especially in the remote airports in the mountains, where narrow valleys, combined with weather uncertainties caused by micro-climates in remote valleys make flying complicated.

What is important now is to evaluate what this means for travel into this region. Does this mean we should stop flying to Jomsom or to other remote location airports?

Definitely not! And this is why.

In Nepal, one of the most common means of access in remote location is by air. Private airlines have flourished because of this, and no matter the accidents, it is safe to say that Nepalese pilots are one of the best in the world. Why can I say this? Because I have travelled into airports in Nepal that look seemingly impossible, and Nepalese pilots land there day in day out, taking locals and trekkers alike, and providing an important lifeline of food, medicine and income - especially in regions like Dolpo, Humla, Jumla, Mugu, and Kanchenjunga.

In Nepal, private airlines are required by law to only do 10 landings per plane. There are up to three airlines going to Jomsom daily, that means a minimum of seven to a maximum fifteen landings happen in Jomsom per day, during the peak season - depending on passengers and good weather. With all these landings happening, Jomsom still had a great record - in fact an excellent record - until now.

Statistically, that's still a pretty good record for a small mountain airport in a narrow valley at 2700 meters, where there are high winds from around 1100 hrs on.

So, to end it, I have to say, shit happens. There is no doubt that Nepal has to be more stringent on airline safety and have better controls on aircraft maintenance - that goes without saying - and I hope the authorities are taking note.

Our hearts go out to the kin of the deceased.

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