Bangladesh says ATC error as Nepal blames pilot

Muktadir Rashid | Updated at 11:57pm on January 28, 2019

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Wreckage of a US Bangla Airlines plane after it crashed near Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu on March 12, 2018. — UNB photo

A Bangladeshi investigator said on Monday that had the air traffic control at Kathmandu played its role properly, the US-Bangla plane crash in March 2018 could have been avoided as Nepalese investigation commission blamed the ‘pilot in command’ for the crash.
At a press conference at Accident Investigation Group of Bangladesh at the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh headquarters in Dhaka, captain Salahuddin M Rahmatullah, who assisted in the Nepalese investigation, made the observation.
He repeatedly said that the pilot had lost his approach to landing but experienced control tower could have guided him towards the runway.
A six-member team headed by former secretary of Nepalese government Yajna Prasad Gautam concluded the investigation and submitted the report to the Nepalese culture, tourism and civil aviation ministry on January 27.
Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh chairman Air vice marshal M Naim Hassan told the press conference that they were not dismissing the Nepalese report but Bangladesh sent a set of recommendations to be included.
On March 12, 2018, US-Bangla Airlines’ scheduled flight BS 211 from Dhaka crashed at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu while landing, leaving 47 passengers and 4 crew members, including pilot in command Abid Sultan and first officer Prithula Rashid.
Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal should strengthen the capacity of the air traffic control by developing appropriate training programme so that they could be more assertive while handling the traffic and issuing clearances to such traffic especially in the event of the abnormal or emergency situations, recommended the Nepalese investigation commission.
The commission report read, ‘When the aircraft made a very steep turn at very low height over the domestic hanger and was passing its heading towards the tower building the tower controllers ducked down the console with fear.’
It recommended, ‘The ATC to be more vigilant and shall visually look out for the aircraft after the landing clearance has been issued in VMC [visual meteorological conditions].’
It stated that the objective of the investigation was the prevention of recurrence such accidents. ‘It is not the purpose of this investigation to apportion blame or liability.’
Captain Salahuddin M Rahmatullah told the press conference that a number of comments provided by Bangladesh had not been incorporated into the report.
‘I hope it will be included, otherwise we have the scope to approach the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a specialised UN agency, to this end,’ he said.
According to him, the typical manoeuvring of the aircraft triggered a local pilot in Kathmanthu to observe that the flight crew of US-Bangla appeared to be disorientated.
‘The local pilot spontaneously advised the tower to give the aircraft radar vector for the pilot in command status being disoriented and also advised the tower to take him out of the area, for the area having poor visibility. To this the supervisor tower controller very timidly announced if the aircraft needed radar vector which was not acknowledged by the pilot in command. The instruction regarding the radar vector was never repeated by the supervisor controller,’ he pointed out in his note in the report.
He suggested that proper action by the air traffic control could avoid the accident although the pilot missed the approach to landing in the first attempt.
The Nepalese report corroborated his statement saying that the cockpit voice recorder did not revealed any evidence of air traffic controllers providing any alert to the flight crew deviation to the right of the approach path.
It said, ‘The CVR [cockpit voice recorder] revealed that the pilot in command was having difficulty in understanding what the first officer was saying due to the high noise levels inside the flight deck.
Exhibiting his confirmation bias, the pilot in command again requested for the landing checklist for the third time where the first officer again confirmed that it had already been completed regardless of the landing gear unsafe tone still stridently audible.’
At this moment the tower on the job trainee controller was replaced by the Tower Duty Controller who took over the microphone and mistakenly cleared the flight to land on runway 20 on share assumption, in considering with the aircraft’s current visual flight position that it could be pilots’ intention to land on runway 20 though the pilot in command deliberately transmitted that he would land on runway 02 Soon after this time, the tower duty controller was replaced by the Tower Supervisor Controller who was present at the tower control, the report read.
The report stated that the pilot in command who was also the pilot flying was under stress and emotionally disturbed as he felt that the female colleague of the company questioned his reputation as a good instructor.
The airline company has a policy of ‘no smoking’ in all the flights but pilot in command was a smoker as per information received by the commission.
‘It has no relations with the accident,’ said Salauddin.
As per the medical report received, pilot Abid had history of depression while serving in Bangladesh Air Force in 1993 and was removed from active duty from Bangladesh Air force for the same reason after evaluation by psychiatrist.
He was re-evaluated by psychiatrist on January 9, 2002 and was declared to be fit for flying.
Pilot Abid however did not show any recurrence of symptoms during medical examinations from 2002 to 2018 as well as at intervening period of examination.
The Nepalese report added that CVR record showed that pilot Abid was talking almost non-stop throughout the duration of flight with his co-pilot being patient listener most of the times.
Most of the conversation in the cockpit was directed towards and aimed at the female colleague who apparently was telling others that the pilot in command was not a good instructor and he could not teach properly. This talk seemed to hurt Abid very deeply as he really took pride in his teaching skills, the report added.
The Nepalese commission recommended that all airline pilots should undergo psychological evaluation as part of the training or before entering into the service.