Saturday, April 21, 2012

After the crash

The crash of the Bhoja Air passenger jet on Friday was the second deadliest aviation accident on Pakistan’s soil after the Airblue disaster in 2010. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has issued a preliminary report based on the conversation of the captain with the Islamabad control tower suggesting that the captain lost control of the plane after the fuel tank exploded. It would, however, be premature to reach any conclusion before a comprehensive enquiry is conducted into the incident. The enquiry committee will have to look into the questions related to the quality of airworthiness and maintenance of the plane, the medical fitness of the pilot and the adherence to the overall safety precautions.

Since 1947, a total of 1,193 people have lost their lives in 32 accidents involving Pakistani airlines. This raises questions about the performance of the CAA, particularly vis-a-vis maintenance of aviation safety standards. There is a perception that the CAA has shown laxity over strict adherence to standards prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Drawing a lesson from the botched up Airblue crash enquiry by the CAA, the PM has done well to assign the investigation this time to a judicial commission. The earlier enquiry was rejected as being unsatisfactory by the Peshawar High Court for leaving a number of aspects unattended. The enquiry was also challenged by the relatives of the crash victims. Under the Civil Aviation Rules 1994, the federal government is empowered to order an inquiry. While the commission would now be headed by a judge, it would hopefully also have a member with qualification, experience and expertise as prescribed by the ICAO Guidelines for Aircraft Accident Investigator. It would be better if he does not belong to the CAA. All over the world independent statutory bodies conduct such investigations without interference and involvement of the aviation authorities and airline companies.

One can very well imagine the suffering the families of the 127 victims of the crash have undergone. The least that needs to be done is to speedily pay the compensation due to them.

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