The near-disaster in terms of the skidding aircraft, coupled with the disaster of four days of international airport closure, was also to be seen in terms of how it affected the economy, how it impacted on the image of the country, and the extent of the volume/depth of human suffering.
Kanak Mani Dixit
An interaction called on short notice on Sunday 1:45 pm – 3:15 pm at the YalaMaya Kendra (Patan Dhoka, Lalitpur) deliberated on the details of the Turkish Flight 726 accident at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) and the lessons to be learnt. Below is a quick summary of the discussion and some of the conclusions derived from the informal discussion:
a) In terms of the cause of the accident, the overriding question is why the TK726 pilots landed the aircraft instead doing a missed approach (as it had earlier) given the low/minimal visibility at or near runway threshold.
b) Based on available information, there seems to have been a hard landing by TK726, after which the aircraft careened towards the left. Catastrophe was averted due to the aircraft’s front undercarriage digging into the soft/wet ground leading to a relatively ‘controlled’ stoppage rather than a cartwheeling. Another disturbing information that emerged was that for between five to ten minutes (different versions) after the aircraft came to a halt, the crew did not take measures for evacuation, including deploying the escape chutes.
c) The response of the Dept of Civil Aviation, TIA administration and related agencies was seen to be shockingly inadequate, in terms of leadership, coordination, and provision of information to passengers (outgoing and incoming). As a result, decisions were delayed, and alternative ways of tackling the crisis were not addressed (including shifting the aircraft with more of a sense of urgency). The absence of a sense of urgency among the political class was also remarked upon. The assignment of accountability of institutions and individuals in relation to the TK726 incident must be a priority.
d) The near-disaster in terms of the skidding aircraft, coupled with the disaster of four days of international airport closure, was also to be seen in terms of how it affected the economy, how it impacted on the image of the country, and the extent of the volume/depth of human suffering.
e) In terms of the economy, we were saved from the long-term damage had there been loss of life due to a calamity on the tarmac, which was a possibility given the nature of the crash-landing. Hopefully, the absence of great publicity in world media limited the damage somewhat, in terms of affecting the economy as well as image. However, the poor response of the civil aviation/airport authorities to the crisis meant that those tens of thousands immediately concerned will carry the memory for long.
f) The response in relation to providing information to desperate passengers was shockingly inadequate; there was preposterous lack of sensitivity. Even easy impromptu means such as installing loudspeakers or utilising FM radio network to inform passengers/families was not utilised. All in all, there was a lack of initiative and imagination, which continued till the time of the interaction, a day after the airport was opened on Saturday evening.
g) A danger to the economy arose from the possibility of insurance agencies bleeding the national exchequer with their demands, given that at times like these the blame tends to be easily placed on the shoulders of the government concerned. The authorities were asked to be alert to any attempt to lay more blame than was deserved for the TK726 incident.
h) The accident, incongruously, indicated how the Nepali economy has become larger and more complex than many would have thought, with more than 80,000 passengers affected over four days of closure. The ripple effect of the closure of course will go far beyond the number of passengers affected, given the upstream/downstream effects on society/economy. The number of flights from mainland China itself was an eye-opener for many. This has taught us hopefully to be better prepared for these and other kinds of events, also by understanding the size and complexity of the expanding economy.
i) Special attention must be paid to the heavy humanitarian costs of the crisis as it related to job migrants (outgoing and incoming), as their number would be more than a third of those stranded (if not half). At the time of the meeting, this aspect of the crisis was continuing, and those in other airports waiting for their flights would be especially vulnerable.
j) There are lessons to be learnt in terms of how the state and society responded to the crisis, including looking ahead to disasters of the future, such as the ‘great earthquake’ that is expected. This was especially relevant in terms of a possible airport closure due to a compromised runway (which is built on a sand bank or ‘taar’).
k) The event also made it all the more crucial to think about airport infrastructure in Nepal, including the need to study the Nijgad airport/fast-track highway plans by way of reaching a conclusion, as well as the expansion of Bhairahawa and Pokhara airports to take international flights. As far as TIA is concerned, the Dept of Civil Association should be able to expand the taxiway to the Runway 20-02 at both ends without seeking ‘donor’ funds – this will ease traffic considerably. It was also suggested that because there was no possibility of a parallel runway, at the very least the old Runway 16-34 could be opened (after relocating some infrastructure that has come up) so that the domestic STOL aircraft could be handled more quickly.
l) Overall, this crisis must make government authorities and institutions more accountable, and civil society/public more proactive in demanding better services at the country’s only international airport, which does not cater only to ‘elite’ passengers any more. Also, the airport provides the first and last impressions of the country to international travellers, and it is vital therefore to make it a pleasant, safe and efficient place. If the TK 726 event can help us better respond to the future challenges of safety, services, efficiency (and even aesthetics) at TIA, we may be said to actually have learnt a lesson at a relatively small cost.
Those attending the impromptu, informal meeting: Chief Secy Leela Mani Paudyal, Capt. D.R. Niraula, Capt. Gopal Bisht, Kunda Dixit, Sujeev Shakya, Kamal Pandey, Rabindra Bhattarai, Xixit Bhatt, Arjun Dhakal, etc. Moderated and reported on by Kanak Mani Dixit.
(This article was originally posted as facebook status by Mr Kanak Mani Dixit. We have reproduced here with his permission.)