The Struggle for European Airspace

  7 min 18 sec to read
The Struggle for European Airspace

The European Union continues to ban Nepali airlines from entering its aerospace despite significant improvements in the aviation safety standards by Nepal. This has hit Nepal’s reputation and its tourism industry.


On December 5, 2013, the European Union (EU) imposed a blanket ban on all Nepali airlines from entering the EU’s aerospace. The Air Safety Committee of the EU took this decision arguing that the Nepali airlines have failed to meet the aviation standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the global aviation body. The committee also requested Europeans not to travel in Nepali airlines. Nepal was included in ICAO's Significant Safety Concern (SSC) list based on its Aviation Security Audit Programme which blacklisted Nepal in July, 2013.

After almost four years, the SSC Committee of ICAO removed Nepal from its SSC list on July 20, 2017 stating that Nepal has improved the air safety standards. Despite the green signal from ICAO, the EU on December 1 decided to continue the ban citing that the country still needs to improve its aviation safety standards.

Why did EU ban Nepali airlines?
Frequent air accidents and the failure of the Nepali airlines to maintain international standards set by the global aviation watchdog are the major reasons behind the ban. Between the years 2008 to 2013, a total of 14 domestic aircraft crashed in Nepal, killing 93 passengers and leaving many injured. ICAO, in 2009, had cautioned the Nepali authorities to improve the aviation standards and maintain the air safety of the country. But, the audit report of the ICAO in 2013 found that the country had not made any significant changes in the aviation sector. As a result, the Nepali aviation sector was put in the SSC list. Following the audit report of ICAO, EU put a blanket ban on Nepali airlines in December, 2013.

ICAO prepares the audit report based on eight different criteria – legislation, organisation, licensing, operations, airworthiness, accident investigation, air navigation services, and aerodromes. The 2013 audit report gave Nepal a score of 55 percent, which was below the Asia and the Pacific average of 60 percent. In 2017, Nepal improved on ICAO’s safety audit, scoring aviation safety standards score of 66 percent, higher than the global safety benchmark of 60 percent. However, the EU ban continues.  

Meanwhile, analysts and experts say that the decision of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), the aviation governing body of the country, to issue type certificates to half a dozen Chinese aircraft may have also prompted the EU to continue the ban on Nepali airlines. Nepal had signed an agreement with China in November 2013 to bring six Chinese aircraft - two MA60 and four Y-12E.  

Impact on Tourism Industry
Though Nepal welcomed almost a million tourists in the year 2017, a record flow of tourists in the country’s tourism history, tourism entrepreneur Amar Man Shakya said that the number doesn’t really reflect the country’s tourism industry. 

The EU ban continues to hit the Nepali tourism industry. Though no Nepali airlines fly to the European countries at present, the ban seemingly has had a psychological effect on European travelers planning a Nepal trip. The fact that the number of European tourists to the country has been declining annually proves this, say tourism entrepreneurs. 

Shakya, who is also the president of the Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN), said that the ban has made the Europeans feel insecure to fly in Nepali airlines and has caused a gradual decline in the flow of European tourists to Nepal. “Is there any point for tourism entrepreneurs to celebrate the record flow of tourists to Nepal when the hotel occupancy rate stands at mere 60 percent even in the peak season?” he asks.

“Nepal welcomed almost a million tourists in 2017 where the number of arrivals from India and China accounted for around 28 percent in 2017,” says Shakya, adding that the government authorities concerned should seriously work for getting delisted from the EU blacklist as EU is a source market of high spending tourists. Another tourism entrepreneur Binayak Shah says that the ban has discouraged the Europeans planning to come to Nepal which is not good for the country.

It’s not hidden that the number of backpackers coming to Nepal has increased massively over the years. Shakya emphasizes the need to focus on quality over quantity and attract high-end tourists to resurrect the tourism industry. 

CAAN Initiatives
It’s been more than four years since the EU imposed the ban. There have been several meetings between the government authorities, EU representatives and other stakeholders, but all the efforts have proved unsuccessful as Nepal is yet to be removed from EU's blacklist. As the civil aviation regulatory body of the country, CAAN has been taking several initiatives to delist Nepal from the blacklist. According to Sanjeev Gautam, director general at CAAN, the regulatory body is confident that the EU will soon delist Nepali airlines from its blacklist.

A six-member team from CAAN and the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) travelled to Brussels on 18 January this year to meet the EU delegation and discuss the matter. The team, led by Gautam, presented a progress report about the significant improvements made in Nepal’s aviation sector over the past four years to the EU representatives. “The EU updates the blacklist every six months. We are hopeful that it will delist Nepal in its next meeting in April/May this year,” he said.

NAC’s plan to fly to EU
In the light of the EU ban, it will also affect Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC)'s future plans to operate flights to the European countries. Decades earlier, NAC operated flights to three European cities, namely Amsterdam, Frankfurt and London, which it had to cease due to financial constraints. Finally, NAC, the national flag carrier of Nepal, is in its final stage to add two wide-body aircraft of A330-200 series to its fleet, and plans to fly to new destinations like South Korea, Japan, Australia and Saudi Arabia.

Although NAC has no immediate plans to fly to the European cities, it is planning to operate flights to London within the next few years after the arrival of its two wide-body aircraft in the second quarter of this year. As the Airbus aircraft can fly as long as for 10 to 12 hours continuously, passengers can reach many European destinations without having to stay at any transit from Nepal. 

According to Sugat Ratna Kansakar, managing director of NAC, the corporation can’t operate flights to the Europe unless EU removes Nepal from its blacklist. “We have worked a lot on safety measures over the years and have already sent a progress report to the CAAN, which has presented it to the EU delegation. We are hopeful that the EU will remove Nepal from the blacklist,” he said, adding that the corporation will think of resuming flights to the European destinations once the Nepali airlines get the green signal from EU

What is EU Air Safety List?
The EU Air Safety List is the list of air carriers banned from flying to the EU aerospace. The EU puts the airlines in the list after they fail to meet the air safety standards set by the EU and the ICAO. The airlines, which are listed in the list, are banned from entering the EU. By maintaining a safety list, the EU aims to provide the highest level of air safety security to its citizens. EU published its first list in 2006 and has been updating the list every six months. According to the Air Safety List updated on November 30, 2017, 178 non-European airlines are banned from entering the EU skies. One hundred seventy two of them are banned due to the lack of safety oversight by the responsible aviation authorities and the remaining six are banned on safety concerns with regard to the airlines themselves. 

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