Monday, April 23, 2012

Aircraft maintenance not Civil Aviation Authority job, says Defence Minister Ch Ahmad Mukhtar

ISLAMABAD - Defence Minister Ch Ahmad Mukhtar has ‘acquitted’ the Civil Aviation Authority in the plane crash incident, saying responsibility for the aircraft maintenance solely rested with the airline concerned, Bhoja Air, and not the CAA.

“The CAA must not be dragged into this. It was primarily and solely the responsibility of Bhoja Air,” he said in a conversation with this journalist by phone on Saturday.

“I have ordered an inquiry which the CAA has already launched. Quite possibly, it was the bad weather that caused the crash but if there was some technical problem concerning the aircraft crash, Bhoja Air was to be held accountable and not the CAA.”

The minister said he was ‘personally’ monitoring the probe and he would make sure that an impartial inquiry was completed at the earliest. Mukhtar also reiterated that Bhoja Air would be made to pay compensation sum to the victim families. As per existing practice, each bereaved family will receive at least five million rupees from the airline concerned.

“No stone would be left unturned to arrange the provisions of compensation amount for the bereaved families and initiation of strict action against those held responsible in the probe.”

Asked if the probe, that was to be assisted by the UN, found fault with CAA, Mukhtar said, “Whether it’s CAA, Bhoja Air or anyone else, nobody would be spared.”

On the other hand, informed sources in the CAA contradicted the minister’s version, saying supervising the safety standards was the CAA responsibility. “Aircraft maintenance is airline’s job but supervision rests with CAA. Unsatisfactory inspection leaves loopholes that may lead to disaster,” officials commented. “The Friday plane crash incident might be the case of bad weather disaster but in case it’s the result of some technical issue, the CAA would share the blame.”

Earlier on Friday, Bhoja Air Spokesperson Jasir Abro had told The Nation that Boeing 737 that crashed near Islamabad was hit by a cloud burst, known as CB in technical terms.  “Initial findings suggest it was a cloud burst and it could have been beyond the control of any pilot to deal with this kind of situation.” Abro said an inquiry was launched to ascertain the crash cause.

Meanwhile, Director General Pakistan Meteorological Department Arif Mehmood said that PMD had issued two weather warnings to the CAA on Friday before the plane crash had taken place. “Weather was very bad and completely unsuitable for flights so we issued weather alerts containing warnings against aerial flights,” he told The Nation.

CAA DG Captain Nadeem Khan Yousufzai, however, contended that CAA had well devised weather monitoring system and officials concerned kept issuing weather advisories on regular basis. “We also get input from the PMD but our own system is also very reliable. We take precautionary measures when it rains or weather gets bad but nobody could have anticipated a CB. An inquiry is in progress and everything would come clear,” he said while talking to this reporter.

A senior CAA official, requesting anonymity, said cloudburst although posed extreme challenge for the airlines’ pilots yet it could be avoided. “CB is the most challenging climatic condition the pilots confront while leading flights. This can be avoided if pilot keeps his nerves and avoid the route where the CB is prevalent.”

The official said, the captain of the ill-fated flight tried to save fuel and went for emergency landing using shortcut while trying to clear the CB and got trapped in it. “It was best for him to keep flying while avoiding the cloud burst till the weather got clear or to fly to Lahore but he showed haste and paid a very heavy price.”

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