This Airline in Nepal Flew Passengers to the Wrong Airport

A flight number change led a Buddha Air plane to fly in the opposite direction.

Tribhuwan International Airport
Photo: Narayan Maharjan/NurPhoto via Getty

When the 69 passengers aboard Buddha Air’s flight U4505 landed in Pokhara, Nepal, last Friday, they were shocked. After all, when they boarded the flight at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport, they had expected to fly to Janakpur — the exact opposite direction from the capital, The Kathmandu Post reported.

Janakpur is normally a 30-minute flight southeast from Kathmandu, while Pokhara is about a 30-minute flight northwest. The cities are about 158 miles apart.

The local paper reported that there was “a lot of hustle and bustle at the domestic terminal” that day, paired with a “breezy afternoon” where the “weather was not quite favorable for the flights,” causing delays.

With all the factors in place, a quick change happened. “The weather was already causing flight delays, and to make up for the flying time, Buddha Air officials decided to fly to Pokhara first,” an airline official told The Kathmandu Post, explaining that they changed the flight number. “The difference in flight schedule between Janakpur and Pokhara was 15 to 20 minutes.”

At that point in time, the ground staff transferred the records of the 69 passengers from U4505 to U4607, which the air traffic controllers had cleared to fly to Pokhara. The problem was that no one informed the capital and co-pilot about the flight number swap. On top of that, the flight attendant announced on board that they were headed to Janakpur, the official told the paper.

“There was miscommunication between the ground staff and the pilots,” the official explained. “The flying pilots also did not look at the passengers’ manifest.”

The passengers were flown to their correct destination later in the day. An in-depth investigation is being launched to see exactly what went wrong, Buddha Air’s managing director, Birendra Bahadur Basnet, told the paper, saying that the “paperwork was fine.”

“There were weather conditions also, so the pilots were more focused on flying,” Basnet said. “It’s an occupational error... or a human error, you can say. Though such errors cause losses to the organization, it has nothing to do with the safety issue. Our internal committee will recommend an appropriate system not to repeat the mistake in the future.”

Landing at the wrong airport isn’t completely unusual. In 2012, a Sriwijaya Air flight bound for Minangkabau International Airport landed in Padang’s Tabing Airport about five miles away in Indonesia, while a 2014 Southwest Airlines flight to Missouri’s Branson Airport ended up at Graham Clark Downtown Airport nine miles away. While those were just a few miles away, last year, a British Airways flight departing London City Airport for Dusseldorf, Germany, ended up in Edinburgh, Scotland — not even in the same direction or the same country.

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