Along with the national airline, the BCAA was also poorly rated by an aviation website recently

Aviation: The country’s aviation regulator, the Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) while having no opinion on Drukair’s poor safety rating by an aviation website, says it ensures a high level of safety by conducting checks on Bhutanese airlines or aviation companies based on international standards.

Drukair was rated 3/7 by Airline Ratings, which many major international media outlets and travel websites deemed as poor and needing improvement, with some even placing Drukair under a list of airlines to avoid.

The national airline dismissed the rating based on its 27-year history of operating jet aircraft without any significant incidents.

BCAA director, Wangdi Gyaltshen, said that the regulator has no opinion in relation to the rating of Drukair or on such lists created by unofficial private, profit, or nonprofit organizations and websites.

However, he pointed out that BCAA carries out all checks as required by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) over all public air transport companies in Bhutan.

He added that these checks guarantee the “highest levels of safety” of aviation in Bhutan.

An observation was also made that a US low-cost airline was rated safer than Drukair by Airline Ratings despite it having to conduct five emergency landings in December, last year.

Drukair lost points for two reasons, one for not having IATA (International Air Transport Association) Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certification.

The IOSA certification is an internationally and accepted evaluation system designed to assess the operational management and control systems of an airline, but it is not mandatory. As it requires an initial membership cost including recurrent fees which Drukair found was not worth the costs as a small airline. Additionally, other similar mechanisms to ensure safety are in place, the airline’s CEO, told this paper, last week.

Wangdi Gyaltshen said that Drukair is not a member of IATA and therefore the question of IOSA certification does not arise. Unless an audit was carried out by IATA which they do for members it would be incorrect to give IOSA certification without proper basis, he said. He also said he agreed with Drukair that given the size of the airline, the costs entailed with being a member of IATA maybe be exorbitant.

The second reason Drukair lost points is because the country’s regulator, the BCAA was deemed to have met only one of eight safety parameters required by ICAO during a 2006 audit, indicating that the oversight agency may not be performing its responsibilities.

When the BCAA, then the Department of Civil Aviation, was audited in 2006, the regulator received an Effective Implementation score of 38.11 percent. What this meant was that the regulator had implemented 38 percent of ICAO requirements.

Wangdi Gyaltshen said that since then significant improvements have been made.

The director said that an ICAO official had visited BCAA last month and that it was found that the Effectiveness Implementation score has increased. However, the latest score will still need to be validated by ICAO headquarters in Montreal.

The improvements are likely a result of a critical post, that of the flight safety officer, that was vacant for more than a decade finally being filled after the government approved a pay scale based on market rates rather than the civil service.

Another reason is the bifurcation of the erstwhile Department of Civil Aviation’s regulatory and service provider functions. The separation created the BCAA and the Department of Air Transport removing a conflict of interest element.

Other measures to improve the BCAA’s capability are underway. The civil service commission has recently sent a few BCAA employees abroad for training in critical areas, such as airworthiness and flight dispatcher, Wangdi Gyaltshen said. A selection process for pilot training, both for fixed-wing and helicopter is in its final stage, he also pointed out. Such qualified employees, once they return, are expected to significantly boost the regulator’s oversight capability over the two airlines and helicopter company.

While the government has invested in such training prior, retention of the qualified personnel was a problem given the higher pay offered by the corporate and private sector.

Wangdi Gyaltshen said that it is important that the training effort be sustained.

He also said that the Aviation Act has been revised and is expected to be deliberated during the summer session of parliament. Once passed, the Act would lead to several regulatory changes which would dramatically improve the country’s compliance with international regulations.

Another area that ICAO was concerned about was the lack of an Accident Investigation Board (AIG) in Bhutan. Wangdi Gyaltshen said that the government plans to sign an MoU with India shortly, where the Indian civil aviation authority would provide the necessary resources if any accidents were to occur. Once the MoU is signed, Bhutan’s rating is expected to improve.

Another ICAO safety parameter that requires addressing is on Air Navigation Services which includes Air Traffic Control (ATC). Bhutan receives a lower score because ATC is currently looked after by the Indian military. ICAO requires that civilian airports are operated by civil authorities. The director pointed out that the government is looking into the issue.

Gyalsten K Dorji