Usually religion and airlines are two separate worlds, but sometimes they meet. While in Italy a new dedicated airline of the Catholic Vatican (Mistral Air) starts to transport pilgrims to holy sites to please the believers, in Nepal, an existing airline sacrifices two goats – to please the Hindu sky god, who in return is hoped to guarantee an ongoing trouble free operation in the future for a troubled aircraft.
Officials at Nepal Airlines (formely known as Royal Nepal Airlines), Nepal’s state-run airline, have sacrificed two goats last week to appease Akash Bhairab, the Hindu sky god (who is actually painted on the fusalage of the aircraft), following a long series of technical problems with one of their Boeing 757 airliners due to which Nepal Airlines has had to suspend some services in recent weeks (it was probably a noticabe part of their international services as it is one of only two mid-haul aircrafts at the airline – the domestic market is served by seven Twin Otters).
The goats were sacrificed in front of the troublesome aircraft on Sunday at Nepal’s international airport in Kathmandu in accordance with Hindu traditions, an official said. They hope that after this sacrifice there will be no more (or not as many) technical problems to be fixed with this particular aircraft, and thus there will be less interruptions to their operations due to aircraft maintenance. “The snag in the plane has now been fixed and the aircraft has resumed its flights,” said Raju K.C., a senior airline official, without explaining what the problem had been. Local media last week blamed the company’s woes on an electrical fault. The carrier runs international flights to five cities in Asia, and this particular flight arrived to Hong Kong safely after the ritual. It is common in Nepal to sacrifice animals such as goats and buffaloes to appease different Hindu deities.
I have looked at comments, news and blogs about this ritual around the web, and was surprised that people didn’t get the real message of it. The majority of the headlines are claiming that the airline ONLY used the sacrifice as to repair the aircraft. I personally believe these posts are wrong. If you read the news in more details and do not approach it with a negative prejudice, it becomes obvious, that they earlier had a number of interruptions to their services due to the maintenance times, when the aircraft had to be grounded while being repaired. So, in reality, the plane was repaired, then put back into operations. Then some other problem occured, so it had to be taken out of the schedule and being repaired again. After a number of such occasions, the airline decided, that upon one of the successfull repairs, they will carry out such a ritual as an addition, to prevent future failures and interruptions to their international services. It is being misinterpreted on many sites as the ONLY task they have done for this repair, and I feel sorry about it. It could even hurt the airline financially, as it is generating a bad image for them around the world.
We all know that Boeing and Airbus take their maintenance and repair issues very strictly, so it wouldn’t go unnoticed if Nepal Airlines would actually not repair a problem, only use a ritual… On the other hand, let’s face it, many other rituals and small ceremonies take place all around the world, on a daily basis, which are based on beliefs, customs and sometimes religion. Just think about the habit of cracking a bottle of champagne across a boat before it’s released on the water. Or actually, having the fire-trucks of the airport giving a welcome shower to a new airline at a particular airport! It is a ritual. This was also a ritual, the only difference is that it is based on a religious belief and not a “long running tradition”. This is a CULTURAL DIFFERENCE, which we should all accept, even if it happens in such a surprising contest! And I believe, that many Hindu passengers will actually feel more safe with Nepal Airlines from now on, only because they know that such a sacrifice has taken place!!