India, Nepal spar over IAF aid sorties as Kathmandu airport clogs up

  • Rahul Singh, Hindustan Times, Kathmandu
  • Updated: Apr 29, 2015 01:09 IST

A tussle between India and Nepal over the planning of sorties by the Indian Air Force and its delivery of relief supplies to Kathmandu threatens to cast a shadow on an otherwise smooth and swift disaster relief effort.

India’s frustration stems from being denied timely clearance to land its heavy-lift military cargo planes at the Tribhuvan international airport and an agonising turnaround time once the planes have landed.

Nepal, however, blames the IAF for not keeping it in the loop about its flight schedules and adding to the confusion in a clogged airport from where several international forces are operating.

“There are two major problems. The IAF doesn’t share its sortie schedule with the Nepalese army and takes hell of a time on the ground in an already congested airport,” Brigadier General PS Bogati, a Nepalese one-star officer who is the deputy chief of the airport coordinating centre here, told HT on Tuesday.

In Delhi, defence secretary RK Mathur, however, denied any coordination problems. All air movement is in close coordination with the Nepalese authorities, he said.

Mathur pointed out that aircraft could obviously not take off or land without clearance from the air traffic controllers.

On Monday, two C-17 Globemaster III planes had to circle over Kathmandu skies for nearly three hours before returning to India after the pilots did not get clearance to land. "We can’t keep wasting flying hours like this," said Air Commodore KH Suresh, task force commander for the IAF.

An airport officer writes queue numbers on Indians' hands as they queue up for an aircraft to evacuate to their country at Nepal's Tribhuvan International Airport. (Reuters)

Major General JS Sandhu, a Gorkha Rifles officer steering the Indian relief effort, said, “The Nepalese army has been carrying out disaster management drills and knows that Kathmandu is a seismic hotspot and the airport is a choke point. But they have not been able to do anything about it.”

Sandhu, who took up the matter with Nepalese army chief General Gaurav SJB Rana, said it was critical to iron out coordination issues so that the relief effort is not hampered.

“So far we were dealing with Nepalese civil aviation authorities to get clearance for our aircraft. But now the Nepalese army will be the main agency,” said Sandhu.

Passenger flights have been hit badly, with large military planes, bringing in hundreds of tonnes of relief supplies daily, crowding the airport.

On Monday, an IL-76 plane spent eight hours at the choked airport to unload 28 tonnes of drinking water. Other air forces are also facing problems of aircraft turnaround due to delays in unloading relief supplies, Suresh said.

Several civil flights have been unable to land here and forced to reschedule their operations with little certainty, a nightmare for people desperate to take the first flight out.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) joint adviser Vinay Kajla said aircraft turnaround time should not exceed an hour and that would require streamlining of relief efforts. “The Nepalese authorities have their own limitations as scores of international rescue teams have landed here,” he added.

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