Aviation regulator requires strengthening

In what should be considered a stroke of luck, the body responsible for improving aviation safety in South Asia, the Cooperative Development of Operational Safety and Airworthiness Programme, will be moving its head office to Bhutan.

With its relocation to Bhutan next year, much required expertise that the local regulator has struggled to retain or recruit, will be just a stone’s throw away, in fact, they regional safety organisation will be moving into the same building that houses the Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) at Paro airport.

It’s no secret that Bhutan’s aviation oversight capabilities is the poorest in this region. While this does not mean that flying the two Bhutanese airlines are unsafe, it does mean that the government is unable to fully carry out its duties in ensuring that not only the two airlines, but the aviation industry as a whole, develops in accord with international regulations.

The aviation industry has expanded rapidly in the past decade and is expected to continue to do so but when it comes to regulating it, this aspect has in fact, diminished. Today the local regulator struggles to keep up with developments in the industry.

With helicopters just over the horizon, an even more complex machine than fixed wing aircraft, will need to be regulated by the BCAA. It does not have the required capacity.

Drones or unmanned aerial vehicles, another rapidly emerging aviation technology, has already reached Bhutan. But the BCAA is yet to formulate rules on how to regulate these machines and is consulting with regulators abroad.

The aviation industry continues to fly ahead, leaving the BCAA in its wake.

But recent achievements have been made. The erstwhile Department of Civil Aviation was bifurcated into the BCAA and the Department of Air Transport. This was a very important separation, that if made earlier may have not lead to the fiasco that caused the domestic airports to have to be repaired more than once.

The government also finally approved the significantly higher renumeration for two critical posts: a flight operations or safety officer and an airworthiness officer.

But there is more to be done even with the regional aviation safety body moving here. While its presence will provide a sigh of relief, it may only be temporary. The location of its office is usually rotated every five years.

This gives the regulator some breathing room to address its shortcomings.

The aviation industry is a life line for the country. If any incident or accident were to occur, fingers would be pointed at the regulator’s shortcomings, albeit too late.

If funds are a problem then there is a need to grant the BCAA some independence from the government system and allow it to keep the income earned from its services, and determine its own pay scales. That way, the required experts, who usually depart for greener pastures in the private sector, can be recruited and retained.

Having the regional aviation safety body in Bhutan for five years is timely in that guidance would be available on how to achieve this separation and ultimately strengthening of the regulatory authority.

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