Saturday, April 21, 2012

Civil Aviation Authority reluctant to cancel Bhoja Air license

Shakil Shaikh 
Sunday, April 22, 2012 

ISLAMABAD: The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) seems reluctant to cancel the Regular Public Transport (RPT) license of Bhoja Air despite a shortage of aircraft in its fleet and Friday’s horrifying crash which killed all 127 persons on board.

DG CAA Captain Nadim Yousufzai, according to an expert in the aviation industry, ‘was economical with the truth’ in his press conference held on Friday, a day after the Boeing 737-200 crash over Hussainabad on the outskirts of Islamabad. Experts said there had been no political pressure, and that the DG CAA should have announced the cancellation of the Bhoja RPT license.

According to reports, 80 percent of Bhoja shares are owned by one Arshad Jalil while 20 percent of the shares are owned by Farooq Bhoja.

"The ill-fated Boeing 737-200 remained grounded at Karachi Airport for well over 10 years before it was issued an Air Operator's Certificate by the DG CAA as a political favor," said a senior official of the CAA who is privy to the affairs in the CAA which regulates, oversees and monitors the aviation sector in Pakistan.

The crashed aircraft was with Bhoja when it began operating flights in Pakistan in 1992 through 1994. In 1994, Shaheen Air inducted this aircraft into its fleet after the cancellation of Bhoja's RPT license.

Informed circles say that in 2002 the aircraft was grounded until now and some weeks back it was issued a license by the DG CAA following the application of some political pressure.

The present MD Bhoja Air, Arshad Jalil, left Shaheen Air earlier this year allegedly after developing differences over the maintenance of aircraft, as Jalil owned the maintenance firm which looked after the Shaheen Air fleet, said the source.

Jalil bought 80 percent shares in Bhoja thus becoming a virtual master of the airline with only three aircraft, plus one standby DC-9 at Dubai, though this DC-9 (never even brought to Pakistan for inspection) belonged to Star Aviation. However, he still somehow managed to obtain the RPT from the then DG CAA Air Marshal (retd) Khalid Chaudhry.

When the present DG CAA Yousafzai said that no political pressure was exerted on the CAA to issue the RPT, he simply told a lie that it was not under his tenure that the RPT was issued to Bhoja Air.

With Pakistan aviation facing all types of hardships with almost all the private airlines in default of huge amounts of money and the national flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines facing around Rs120 billion in losses, many experts suggest a "surgical operation" to revive the aviation sector in Pakistan.

"You would be surprised to know that Arshad Jalil's company was carrying out maintenance of the Bhoja Air fleet with the CAA overseeing it, though the CAA lags behind in this endeavour," said an aviation expert, who lamented that Defence Minister Ch Ahmed Mukhtar was trying to mislead the people of Pakistan by saying that the CAA was not responsible for the maintenance of aircraft in the private sector. "Mukhtar was intentionally telling a lie to avoid the wrath of the masses," said one CAA official.

Many people say that PIA has already been warned in Europe about the maintenance of its aircraft, though all private and public sector aviators and their aircraft are inspected, overseen by the CAA inspectors. Sometimes CAA inspectors even travelled on these aircraft to see the performance of the flying machine and the pilot.

"The issuance of an RPT license to Bhoja was a result of the fraud and the constitution of an inquiry commission is nothing but a farce to hide facts from the people," said a former top official of a private airlines, before adding, "Private airlines are bringing obsolete aircraft from the international junk market to Pakistan and that is the dilemma."

Bhoja maintenance operations, one senior official said, were a complete fraud with the people, as what happens is a different story with buying of Number-2 spares, saving on exercise duty, inexperienced flight dispatch officers (FDOs), poor maintenance of the flying bird, saving fuel, and offering lower tariffs to attract travellers on these private airliners, so much so that independent investigations should be called in to dig out the facts as to who gave the AOC to the ill-fated aircraft and the pilot Noorullah Afridi to fly that bird.

Afridi remained out of job after leaving Shaheen and his joining Bhoja, as there is clear-cut policy that if a pilot changes his airline he must complete 50 hours flying as observatory period before he operates commercial flights of his new employers, a pilot told The News.

There is a saying in the aviation industry that only two percent of the people attached with maintenance, engineering and on other jobs are capable and are professionals, while the rest of the ninety-eight percent are either non-professionals or those who do their work after taking help from others with most of them not even completing their work before the scheduled take-off of an aircraft.

Nobody cares as CAA is manned by unprofessional with political backing and that is a key reason of national aviation sector having a noose-drive similar to ill-fated Bhoja aircraft on Friday.
The ill-fated Bhoja Being 737-200 was fitted with obsolete equipment and old technology, though modern aircraft with state-of-the-art technology are often having a blind landing on European strips without any problem.

The CAA has never made a genuine bid to force these public and private sector operators to have equipped their aircraft with latest technology only for the purpose of safe-flights with confidence of the people.

Information gathered from concerned officials reveals that the ill-fated aircraft pilot was informed that weather was 230-20 meaning that wind was blowing at 230 degrees at a speed of 20 knotts with visibility reported at 4 kilometres at 6:00p.m on Friday, though the Tower Observation showed 10 km visibility.

The Instrument Landing System (ILS) reported dangerous CB clouds over Hussainabad as the pilot starting descending, slowly reducing the speed of the aircraft when the micro burst took place. The aircraft, unable to sustain the first blow of the furious micro burst, started coming down. Had the pilot been fully aware of this phenomena he should have speeded up the aircraft with its noose up to find an escape before rerouting and making an alternate landing in Lahore. By that time, of course, it was too late to recover and the ICAO-24, code 760763, was reported as the plane crashed over Hussainabad. And with it the entire political leadership, the defence ministry, CAA and the Bhoja owners were left to face ensuing wrath of the victims' families, with the people of Pakistan seeing the constitution of run-on-the-mill inquiries ordered to find the "Truth." Friday's tragedy left behind souls crying and weeping for their bereaved fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, sisters, newlyweds and what not.

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