Nepal’s PM: Ban On RAF Chinooks Is Not Politics

Nepal’s Prime Minister has added confusion to the debacle over permission for British Chinook helicopters to fly in Nepal.

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala said he had refused access to the three Royal Air Force helicopters because of limited space at Kathmandu airport, and insisted the decision had nothing to do with politics.

The helicopters have been sitting on the tarmac at Chandigarh Air Force base in India for nearly three weeks waiting for permission to help with the earthquake relief effort.

The British government announced on Friday that the aircraft would now head back to the UK, unused.

When asked Mr Koirala why he had not allowed the aircraft into Nepal.

In a somewhat confused answer, he said that the airport was crowded and that Nepal’s terrain was difficult, suggesting that would cause problems for the Chinooks.

Prior to this comment, the Nepalese government had said it did not want the Chinooks to take part in the earthquake recovery because of concerns that the huge downdraft from their twin rotors would damage land and housing.

This concern was dismissed by the British military.

Kathmandu airport is unquestionably busy at the moment, but when media persons flew from there in a helicopter on Friday, there appeared to be sufficient room even for huge helicopters like Chinooks.

Furthermore, the helicopters would not need to land on the airport’s surfaced area. They could operate from the ample open grass space around it.

In a separate interview, the country’s Information Minister Minendra Rijal insisted that Nepal’s military had weighed the usefulness of the Chinooks against the damage he said they would cause.

“I can understand there is difference between the evaluation of the experts.”

“We had our experts evaluate it, we had our Nepal army evaluate it and based upon the advice they have given we have made this decision,” he said.

Mr Koirala’s contradictory words will add to suspicions that the real reason for the refusal is because the Chinese and Indian governments do not want too many western militaries operating near their airspace.

Asked about this, the Prime Minister dismissed it as “humbug”.

“This has nothing to do with politics. This is simply about airport spaces. No, no. I read in the papers that the Indians and the Chinese… This is all humbug. This is all wrong news,” he told.

The Chinooks are now being disassembled and loaded back on to transport planes to be flown back to the UK.

The cost of flying them to the region, keeping them on the ground in India as well as accommodating the thirty to forty crew and maintenance teams has been met by the UK.

Chinooks are the workhorse of the Royal Air Force and have frequently been used for humanitarian relief operations.

They can carry a load of about 10 tonnes. They are designed to carry 55 soldiers but for evacuation purposes they can carry up to 70 people.

Their load capacity and their maneuverability are ideal for the challenges facing the people of Nepal.

Many communities remain stranded and aid agencies have repeatedly complained of a lack of helicopters.

Small civilian helicopters owned by local tour firms are currently carrying out a significant number of the recovery missions and are flying dangerously overloaded.

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