The presence of the body is expected to boost the country’s poor aviation oversight capabilities

Aviation: In what is being deemed a major achievement for the aviation industry in Bhutan, the office of the Cooperative Development of Operational Safety and Continuing Airworthiness Programme – South Asia (COSCAP-SA), responsible for improving the safety oversight capability of member states, among others, will be based in Bhutan from next year.

The decision to relocate the office to Bhutan was made during the 24th COSCAP-SA steering committee meeting held in Delhi earlier this month. Bhutan will host COSCAP-SA for at least five years starting June, next year. The office is currently located in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

According to the Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA), the move comes at the right time as major changes and development activities in the aviation sector are occurring such as the separation of the regulator from the airports,  construction and operation of new domestic airports and introduction of helicopter services, among others.

The presence of COSCAP-SA in Bhutan is also expected to some extent, address the acute shortage of professionals in the BCAA.

For the past two decades, the aviation regulator, unable to match the pay offered by the private sector, has seen its professionals depart for greener pastures. This resulted in Bhutan scoring badly when it comes to its compliance with international aviation requirements.

While the government recently allowed the BCAA to offer higher pay for two critically required posts, only one, the post of flight operations or safety officer, has been filled so far. The other, for an airworthiness officer, remains vacant as the pay offered is still not at par with market rates.

BCAA director Wangdi Gyaltshen said that a local Bhutanese candidate who had just completed the airworthiness course rejected the authority’s offer of a job based on the low pay. “Even freshers don’t want this amount, forget about experts,” he added.

The BCAA will be raising the issue in its mid-term review with the government as it is currently operating with only one airworthiness officer.

Once COSCAP-SA is relocated to Bhutan, two international level aviation oversight officers, a Chief Technical Advisor, who heads the programme, and an airworthiness officer, will be permanently based in Paro.

Another two experts, one concerned with aerodromes and the other with navigation services, will be recruited by COSCAP-SA only on a need and short term basis.

“We’re going to benefit immensely,” Wangdi Gyaltshen said.

The director pointed out that the BCAA would be able to request the two officers to not only supervise and train Bhutanese aviation personnel but also carry out audits or inspections of the two airlines when necessary. Bhutanese personnel will be attached to COSCAP-SA and will be able to obtain on the job training. This would lead to significant cost savings for the government, Wangdi Gyaltshen said.

He also pointed out that many issues arose in day-to-day activities that required consultations with regulators in other countries as the BCAA lacked capacity. With direct access to the two COSCAP-SA officers, the problem would be solved, he said.

“The mere fact that the secretariat will be located here, there’ll be many experts coming here from the region from time to time for meetings and other interactions so there’ll be a lot of benefits,” he said.

The BCAA will have to provide adequate office space and facilities like video conferencing, among others, administrative staff and a driver at no cost to the programme. The relocation cost of the COSCAP-SA office will also be borne by the BCAA.

“All these things shouldn’t be a problem for the benefit we’re going to get out of it,” Wangdi Gyaltshen said.

Bhutan had proposed to host COSCAP-SA in a previous meeting but was not successful.

“It has always been our desire or aspiration to have the COSCAP-SA office here,” Wangdi Gyaltshen said, adding that much lobbying and persuasion had to take place in the last meeting of member states.

The director explained that Bangladesh had requested that the office be retained in Dhaka, while Nepal had proposed to host the office in Kathmandu on a permanent basis.

The Bhutanese delegation argued that as it was the weakest state in terms of aviation oversight capabilities in the region, relocating COSCAP-SA to Bhutan would make the most sense.

Bhutan currently has the poorest score in the South Asian region, scoring even below Nepal, when it comes to compliance with international aviation regulations. However, the score has improved slightly in the past few months.

Given that COSCAP-SA had also been located in Nepal in 1998, it was decided by the member states that Bhutan should be the host country from 2016, for at least five years. COSCAP-SA has previously also been located in Sri Lanka.

The COSCAP-SA programme was established in 1998. The programme is supported by major regional and global aviation partners both state and industry, such as the Federal Aviation Administration of the USA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, Airbus, and Boeing, among others.

The programme is funded by a trust fund made up of member state annual subscription fees and donor contributions. Bhutan’s annual fee comprises three percent or USD 28,000 of the total trust fund. The long term objective of the programme is to evolve itself into a regional safety organisation.

Bhutan held the chairmanship of the programme for the last two years. It was handed over to India in June.

Gyalsten K Dorji