Explained: Why Does Nepal’s Aviation Industry Have Safety Issues?

Nepal's Himalayan terrain often causes issues with aviation operations. Hills and mountains cover a large part of Nepal and adverse weather with tough terrain often cause flying troubles.


Nepal Plane Crash

The death toll of the Nepal plane crash rose to 70 on Tuesday as two more bodies were recovered. 

A Yeti Airlines passenger plane carrying 72 people on board, including 68 passengers and four crew members, crashed in Nepal's Pokhara on Sunday. 

The Kathmandu-Pokhara flight crashed as it approached the airport for landing. A video showing the plane's final moments shows it swerving wildly to one side as it approached the airport for landing. There were no adverse weather conditions at the time of the crash and experts have said that system failure or human error could have caused the accident. 


The Pokhara crash is the deadliest in Nepal in decades. It comes within a year of another crash in Nepal's Mustang region in which all 22 people onboard were killed. 

Here we explain what we know so far about the Pokhara crash and what makes Nepal a tough place for aviation.

Nepal plane crash, all we know so far

The Nepali government has ordered an investigation into the Pokhara crash. The report will be submitted within 45 days.

The authorities have said that everything was fine till the accident happened. 

"At 10:32 am, the plane took off from Kathmandu. It was scheduled to land at Pokhara at 10:58 am. Was in continuous contact with Pokhara Tower. The landing clearance of that plane had also been obtained. The weather was also fine. Everything was fine then how the accident happened is a matter of investigation," said Premnath Thakur, General Manager, Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu.


"A high-level investigation team has been formed. Any conclusion can be drawn by checking its voice recorder and other circumstances," Thakur said.

The Voice Data Recorder and Flight Data Recorder, commonly called the black box, have been recovered from the site of the crash.

The plane commanded by Captain Kamal KC, an instructor pilot, made the first contact with the Pokhara control tower from nearly 110 kilometres away. He later asked for permission to switch to Runway 12 which is the western end.

"We were not sure why. Permission was granted, and accordingly, the aircraft started its descent,” said Anup Joshi, a senior air traffic controller.

There were no adverse weather conditions at the time of the accident. In a video showing the final moments of the plane, the plane is seen swerving wildly to one side. A clear and sunny sky is seen. 

Why is Nepal prone to air accidents?

The air crash on Sunday was Nepal’s worst aviation disaster since 1992. The country has been working to overcome its challenges in aviation.

Nepal's tough terrain often poses difficulties as large parts of the country are mountaineous. 

A challenging landscape

Topography has gifted Nepal with picturesque landscapes, but posits unrivalled challenges to flight operations.

Nepal, situated between India and China, is home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Mount Everest. For flight operations, it’s an almost unrivalled, harsh environment with sudden weather changes that can make for hazardous conditions.


Airports built in mountainous regions often need to have shorter runways that can only accommodate turboprop-powered regional aircraft, rather than large jet airliners that can access larger cities in Nepal.

As a result, aviation carriers in Nepal have a variety of aircraft on their fleets. These craft vary in condition, presenting potential safety hazards.

The ATR 72 aircraft is one typical aircraft used by Nepali carriers. It is a turboprop-powered regional aircraft with a capacity between 44 and 78 passengers. These aircraft are manufactured by a joint venture of Airbus in France and Leonardo in Italy.

The aircraft involved in this crash had been in service for 15 years, a fairly typical age for an aircraft.


A growing and fast-changing industry

Nepal has welcomed private investment into its aviation sector since 1992. Yeti Airlines is one of 20 domestic carriers. The airline, headquartered in Kathmandu, flies to 10 domestic destinations using ATR 72-500 aircraft. In addition, 29 international airlines operate into Nepal’s capital too.

With air travel in Nepal becoming more accessible and affordable, airport infrastructure development has remained far behind compared to the growth of air traffic. This has resulted in increasing congestion at airports, fare competition between airlines, and decreased safety records.

In fact, the country has recorded at least 350 casualties associated with aeroplanes or helicopters since 2000, which has raised questions about the effectiveness of its aviation safety regulations.


The aviation regulator in charge is the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, a government agency established in 1998.

Working hard to improve

Nepal became a member of the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in 1960. This membership obliges the country to abide by international conventions, ICAO’s regulations, standards, and recommended practices in aviation safety.

While Nepal’s aviation industry has made significant efforts to improve safety, unfortunately the safety record still doesn’t match up with the requirements of other civil aviation authorities.

In particular, the European Union banned all Nepali airlines from operating in the bloc’s airspace in 2013 after ICAO raised a red flag. That ban still hasn’t been lifted, and Nepal remains on the EU Air Safety List.


Despite the tragic casualty record, Nepal has stepped up its efforts to improve aviation safety. The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal has been focusing on improving safety in Nepali aviation – such as building improvements at airports, upgrading safety equipment, and fostering a positive safety culture by encouraging hazard reporting.

Nepal’s considerable improvement in safety measures and compliance with international standards was recognised by ICAO in 2018. However, the country must continue work on its aviation reform to make its skies safe for everyone.  

(With inputs from The Conversation via PTI)