On December 18th, passengers on a Buddha Air flight from Kathmandu to Janakpur landed in Pokhara instead of their intended destination. The reason for landing at the wrong airport? Human error. This mix-up was due to a lack of communication between ground staff and the flight crew arising from weather issues and flight changes. Let’s take a look at what happened.
Buddha Air was set to fly from Kathmandu (KTM) to Janakpur (JKR) on December 18th as flight U4505. Onboard the aircraft were 69 passengers that day. The flight was delayed in taking off but was due in Janakpur at 15:15 local time.
While the pilots were certain that they had arrived at the right airport, passengers must have been confused as they stepped off the plane and found themselves at the wrong airport. The aircraft had landed in Pokhara (PKR), some 255km away (157mi) from Janakpur.
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So what exactly happened?
According to the Kathmandu Post, Buddha Air has admitted to serious lapses on the part of its staff.
On the day of the flight, weather conditions were rather unfavorable for flights (described as ‘breezy‘). Several services had already been delayed because of this, and as a result, airlines were doing their best to capitalize on the limited weather windows available for takeoff. One of these was Buddha Air’s U4505 to Janakpur.
“There was miscommunication between the ground staff and the pilots…The flying pilots also did not look at the passengers’ manifest.” – Buddha Air official via Kathmandu Post
Having seen the preliminary report, the Post notes that weather issues permitted flights to Pokhara until 15:00 under visual flight rules (VFR). The airline then changed flight numbers and ground staff re-assigned the 69 passengers to flight U4607 rather than U4505. This was done ‘on paper.’
Adding to the confusion was the fact that the difference in flight schedule between Janakpur and Pokhara was 15 to 20 minutes.
The airline stated that everything was in the right order on paper. However, Buddha Air’s ground staff and flight attendant failed to brief the flight’s captain and co-pilot that the flight’s number had been changed.
“Paperwork was fine,” said an airline representative, adding, “there were weather conditions also so the pilots were more focused on flying.”
The second incident in Nepalese aviation history
Tri Ratna Manandhar, former director-general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, tells the Post that this is only the second incident of its kind in the country’s entire history of aviation. “The Buddha Air incident happened due to miscommunication. It’s not part of safety lapses but it’s a serious lapse on the part of management. Such lapses cause passengers to suffer. On the other hand, airlines too have to bear losses.” Manandar notes.
The first was in 1993 when a Twin Otter of then Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation landed at Simara airport rather than Bharatpur airport.
As for Friday’s incident, the airline’s managing director told the Post that a committee has already been formed to investigate what happened. As for the passengers, the airline says that they were flown to Janakpur directly from Pokhara later in the day.
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Simple Flying has attempted to contact Buddha Air to obtain a statement directly from the airline. However, at the time of publication, no response has been received.