60 years of living dangerously

Aviation safety experts say this means pilots need to be mindful of not just the weather at the origin and destination airports, but also have precise real-time information of conditions along their flight path. A past crash report recommended equipment to beam live weather conditions on accident-prone routes like Pokhara-Jomsom. The equipment was never installed.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) ought to take a lead by coordinating with the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology to use existing and proposed Doppler radar stations, locating them along dangerous air routes.

Webcams at critical waypoints like Lamjura, Ghorepani, Lete, and Virgin Pass could stream live images of visibility and cloud. Such weather cameras have proved their worth for bush pilots in Alaska and other far flung areas of the world. Following the latest crash near Jomsom that killed 22 people, flights are now required to have go, no-go clearance from air traffic controllers of en route weather. This requirement has grounded most Pokhara-Jomsom flights.

Read more: Crash Course, Editorial

This rule pre-supposes that CFIT incidents are mostly due to pilot error, and therefore hands the decision to controllers who may actually have even less information about en route weather.

It is the flight crew which has visual reference to conditions along the way, and are in the best position to make a judgment to fly on or turn back.

Capt Prabhakar Ghimire was a former air traffic controller with 30 years of experience flying Twin Otters and knew the terrain like the back of his hand. Initial reports of the 29 May crash say he made a steep banking climb to remain VFR and avoid cloud before impact. 

Handing flight clearance based on en route weather to controllers may lead to needless cancellations, or increase pressure on pilots to fly even when the weather along the way is bad.

More loss of lives can be reduced with VFR training compliance for crew, and real-time visual en route weather information.    

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