While the Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority has found a flight safety officer it could not recruit an airworthiness officer 

Aviation: In what should improve Bhutan’s flight safety rating, the Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) has found a fully qualified flight safety officer after going for more than a decade without one.

A flight safety officer monitors and ensures that both the regulator and the airlines are complying with international safety legislation requirements.

While the BCAA has been functioning with a senior flight safety officer for the past two decades, the officer lacked flying experience, which is required by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

The newly recruited flight safety officer, who is a retired pilot, will assist the senior flight safety officer and aid the BCAA in its oversight functions.

The recruitment became possible only after the government recently approved the BCAA’s recommendation that the salary for the post be determined by market rates rather than the civil service’s pay scale.

The flight safety officer will be paid Nu 400,000 a month.

With airlines also requiring flight safety officers and pilots, the significant difference in salary cannot be ignored. As a result, all flight safety officers the BCAA has had have quit and moved on to greener pastures.

It was pointed out that BCAA, then the Department of Civil Aviation, had up to six inspectors two decades ago, monitoring two aircraft. Today, with seven aircraft operating at Paro, the BCAA has only two left, including an airworthiness officer.

While the senior flight safety officer carried out the functions of the post adequately, the lack of flying experience was a factor that contributed to Bhutan’s low rating or Lack of Effective Implementation (LEI) score. The LEI score reflects the level to which the local regulator complies with ICAO regulations. Bhutan’s rating is currently the lowest in the South Asian region.

The score though does not mean that flying on Bhutanese airlines is unsafe, as they have their own safety and airworthiness officers. It only means that the check and balance mechanism is not at par with what is expected by ICAO.

With only one senior flight safety officer, it was also a challenge for the regulator to dispatch the officer for trainings and seminars as it would have meant that there would be no substitute.

“LEI is one aspect, our whole target is to ensure safety,” the BCAA director, Wangdi Gyaltshen said. “With somebody with experience, we’re more safe,” he added. “BCAA is in a better position.”

However, the director pointed out that one-fourth of the salary is tax payable which means Nu 100,000 returns to the government as taxes.

However, while the BCAA has found a flight safety officer it has not been able to find an airworthiness officer. The BCAA currently has one qualified airworthiness officer, and three unqualified ones. Airworthiness officers oversee the flying conditions and maintenance of aircraft.

Wangdi Gyaltshen said no applications for the post had been received.

While the government had also allowed the salary of the post to be increased, the increase was found to be insufficient.

The consolidated salary for the airworthiness post is Nu 125,000 a month, which is again, taxable.

However, Wangdi Gyaltshen said that there had been inquiries from potential candidates if the salary is for a single day instead, indicating the high market rates being charged.

The director said that the government would be requested again to increase the salary to a range of between Nu 250,000-300,000.

He added that preferably the salaries for the two position should not be taxed, similar to experts who work for UN agencies.

The BCAA will be sending its three unqualified airworthiness officers for a 10-month training shortly. Once they return, they will be recognised as qualified airworthiness officers. However, Wangdi Gyaltshen said that ideally, they should undergo a two-year course followed by another two-year period of on the job training. He said this could not occur given that the duration they are away is too long and that budget availability is scarce.

He added that bonds would be signed with the three to ensure that attrition does not occur. However, he also pointed out that demand for such officers is not as high as that of flight safety officers.

Gyalsten K Dorji