M Omar Iftikhar
IT was another national tragedy enveloping Pakistan. It was another catastrophe involving an airplane crash. The electronic and social media was abuzz about the ill-fated airplane, flight PK-661 that crashed in Havelian travelling from Chitral to Islamabad. It was another day of mourning as Pakistanis paid tribute and remembered the 47 passengers, along with a national hero – Junaid Jamshed – a national icon onboard the aircraft.
This, however, is the third such airplane tragedy occurring to a flight inbound to Islamabad. The Airblue flight ABQ-202 flying to Islamabad from Karachi in June 2010 crashed in the Margalla Hills, killing all 152 people onboard. The authorities placed the blame on the pilot. In April 2012, a Bhoja Air Boeing 737 crashed near Islamabad. All 121 passengers lost their lives. Although the aviation industry of Pakistan has been under pressure to overhaul and repair its aircraft and put special emphasis on the maintenance of the airplanes including periodical safety checks and grounding airplanes not fit for flight, the concerned authorities of the aviation industry, however, are not paying heed to such concerns.
Pakistan’s aviation industry must implement rules, regulations, codes and principles pertaining to the working and maintenance of all aircraft operated by any company working in Pakistan to ensure every domestic or international flight is fit for flight and stands at par with the safety rules prescribed by the aviation’s governing bodies and concerned authorities.
Moreover, it is a normalcy now for the electronic media of Pakistan to question the mental, physical and professional capacity of the pilot of an ill-fated airplane. In reality, questions and concerns must arise with passion, out of curiosity, and in pursuit of a professional decorum from aviation experts, pilot, airport’s ground crew, engineers, and maintenance staff before an airplane takes off. In this regard, the ground crew personnel must check, recheck and confirm the strength and proper operations of an airplane’s engine, its body, and other functions prior to taking off.
It is unfortunate, however, that the ground staff present at the Gilgit airport was not equipped with proper knowledge and equipment to inspect flight PK-661 before it took off. According to an analyst, smaller airports do not have a ground staff that has the expertise in gauging the functioning of an airplane. Such staff is present only at airports situated in the metropolis of the country. This is a startling revelation accentuating a fact that airplanes departing from smaller airports, not located in the metropolis, fly on luck and good fortune only.
According to reports, the pilot of PK-661 made a mayday call moments before it lost contact with the control tower before crashing nearly 75 miles from Islamabad. The authorities assured that the aircraft allowed flying which meant there was no fault evident in its system. However, reports later surfaced that there was a technical glitch in the aircraft’s left engine. The pilot who previously flew this aircraft mentioned about the aircraft’s faulty left engine. If the pilot’s observation was ignored then the authorities are to be blamed for this tragedy.
Moreover, the aviation industry of Pakistan does not have the proper system, equipment and expertise to decipher information from a black box and every time a plane crash tragedy occurs, the black box recovered from the site of the crash is sent abroad for examination. It is high time that efforts must be made to overhaul Pakistan’s aviation industry and to create avenues for aircraft to have a safe journey. This is only possible if the aviation industry follows a visionary leadership, adheres to international standards and by creating an accountable and transparent working conditions and system.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Karachi.