10 yrs after IC-814 hijack, Nepal pledges better safety
Kathmandu: Recovering from the trauma of the sensational hijack of an Indian Airlines aircraft 10 years ago, Nepal's civil aviation authorities say they have learnt from the past experience and strengthened security measures at the country's only international airport.
The hijacking had ended with the brutal killing of a passenger and the release of three Islamic terrorists by India in exchange for the safe release of the remaining passengers.
"We regret the incident 10 years ago," said Dinesh Prasad Shrestha, general manager at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. "We have learnt from it and today, security measures have been enhanced at the airport to prevent a repetition."
According to the official, Nepal Police are now entrusted with security measures inside the airport while Nepali Army looks after security on the periphery of the airport.
Security provisions at the former sleepy airport have been beefed up in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organisation guidelines that include X-raying of baggage at the antry point and body searches of passengers.
For additional security, the airport has also introduced random checks of hand baggage for 50 percent of outgoing passengers while it is enforced for the remaining 50 percent.
In addition, passengers bound for India, Pakistan and the Middle East states are thoroughly examined, which includes their hand baggage.
On Dec 24, 1999, New Delhi-bound flight IC-814 of India's national carrier Indian Airlines was hijacked by five Pakistanis with links to terrorist organisation Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, and flown to Kandahar after refuelling stops in Lahore and Dubai.
The hijack motive was to secure the release of Islamic militants held in Indian prisons and after negotiations, New Delhi released three for the safe release of the remaining passengers.
A decade after the nightmare, the Indian Airlines authorities say they have also initiated safety measures on their own and are confident of averting a similar attempt.
Currently, Air India, which now encompasses Indian Airlines, and private carrier Jet Airways combine flights from Kathmandu to New Delhi, Kolkata, Varanasi and Mumbai, accounting for 6,000 seats per week.
Both airlines have also initiated an additional security check before passengers board the aircraft, which include a body search and examination of hand baggage.
There are two more checks at the airport with one being a covert scrutiny.
Indian Airlines, like other airlines, is urging Nepal to install the CUTE (common user terminal equipment) system, which will enable them to share the same check-in facilities and slash time as well as have everything computerised so that there is thorough documentation.
Currently, many airlines use the manual system for documenting hand baggage. Once CUTE is implemented, even such data would be recorded by the computer and make investigation easier.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal has floated a global tender but the process of selection is yet to start.
However, another part of security measures that the Indian government is urging Nepal to allow still remains unimplemented due to the political turmoil in the nascent republic.
India has been asking Nepal to allow its air marshals to be present on the flights operated by the national carrier to prevent untoward incidents.
Though Nepal's former Maoist tourism and aviation minister Hisila Yami had been positive to the request, after a change in the government the proposal is yet to get an official nod now.