The national airline was one of 38 rated as having an inadequate safety score by aviation website Airline Ratings

Aviation: The national airline, Drukair has dismissed its poor safety rating by an aviation website, whose ratings of safest and unsafest airlines are being used and published by several major international media houses and travel websites.

The aviation website, Airline Ratings, ranked national airline Drukair as having a 3/7 rating.

Airline Ratings surveyed 407 airlines on a scale of one to seven. While it rated 148 airlines as having seven points, it ranked 38 airlines three points or less.

The ratings are widely available online, with several articles making it a point to highlight both the highest and lowest safety ranked airlines.

For instance, an online article published by Time magazine lists Drukair under a list of airlines to avoid, along with some other regional air carriers like Tara Air (1/7), Nepal Airlines (1/7), Nok Air (2/7), and Bangkok Air (3/7), among others.

The airlines are rated on seven categories. On three of the categories, Drukair received a point each. The three categories are having a fatality free record for the past 10 years, not being banned from entering the EU, and being endorsed by the Federal Aviation Authority of the USA.

One area where Drukair loses points is on lacking an IATA (International Air Transport Association) Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certification. The IOSA is an internationally and accepted evaluation system designed to assess the operational management and control systems of an airline, it is pointed out on the IATA website.

Drukair CEO, Tandi Wangchuk, pointed out that the IOSA certification is a prerequisite to become a member of IATA. “Drukair did a study on the benefits of becoming an IATA member in 2013 and the conclusion was that there was no tangible benefit for a small airline like Drukair for the amount of expenditure needed to become a member,” the CEO said. “The IOSA certification involves recurrent expenditure besides the initial membership cost,” he added. “The fact that Drukair is not a member of IATA does not imply that Drukair is unsafe as there are other mechanisms to ensure safety.”

The other area Drukair lost points was on whether the regulator of the airline’s country, in this case, the Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority, meets all eight safety parameters as required by the International Civil Aviation Organizaton (ICAO). Despite significant improvements made by the Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) in recent times, Bhutan’s ICAO compliance rating is one of the lowest in the region.

While the rating does not mean that Bhutanese airlines are unsafe to fly, it does indicate that the oversight agency or check and balance mechanism is not at par with what is required by ICAO.

Lack of budget and qualified personnel have been two major weaknesses of the BCAA, among others. The BCAA was not able to respond on the rating criteria of the website and its own low rating in time for the writing of this article yesterday.

“ICAO observation is on the affairs of the national aviation authority (BCAA) and not on the airlines,” Tandi Wangchuk said. “Drukair would like to inform that our regulations are based on EASA (European Aviation & Safety Authority) which are in conformity with ICAO Annexes and SARPs (Standard and Recommended Practices),” he added.

“To ensure compliance with those requirements, in addition to the regular audits carried out by the BCAA we have our own internal audits and monitoring done by an independent quality assurance directly reporting to the accountable manager,” Tandi Wangchuk said.

With both categories weighted two points each, Drukair lost four points and therefore was rated 3/7.

“The fact that Drukair did not have any significant incident in the last 27 years of jet operation in spite of the challenging operational environment of Paro airport, is a testimony to our safety record,” Tandi Wangchuk said.

The approach into and take off from Paro airport, both carried out manually, is considered one of the most challenging globally.

“Drukair places the highest priority on safety and would like to assure all concerned that safety will always be accorded number one priority,” he added.

Private airline, Tashi Air subsidiary Bhutan Airlines was not rated by the aviation website.

Gyalsten K Dorji