Saturday, April 21, 2012

Flashback 2010: Chaos returns as families swamp airport counters

By Shaheryar Mirza 
Published: April 22, 2012 

It was almost reminiscent of the day that Airblue Flight 202 crashed two years ago. Jinnah International Airport was home to chaos again, as the families of those that died in the Bhoja Air plane crash scrambled to get information on their loved ones and how to catch a flight to Islamabad.

A small counter at the airport run by about four Bhoja Air staff members was permanently swarmed by the victims’ families and the media. There appears to have been no lessons learned from the tragedy of 2010. The Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) Airport Manager Nasir Sheikh insists that there is an “emergency response plan” with standard operating procedures even though one would be hard pressed to find convincing evidence of this on the ground.

“We have an emergency response plan but it is true that there are so many people who come into the middle, the media etc and we can’t do much about that,” says Sheikh.

This plan includes setting up a counter for passengers and to compile information so people can verify if their family members boarded the flight. Sheikh says that there is a plan to accommodate relatives so that they can reach the disaster site.

“The CAA DG (Nadeem Khan Yousafzai) saw to it that a larger plane was arranged so that more passengers could be accommodated and taken to Islamabad,” says Sheikh, who added that a lot of decisions are made on the spot.

No attempts were made to cordon off an area for families or keep the media and other visitors at a distance. There was no security to manage the influx of people either.

It is CAA’s jurisdiction to maintain order at the airport.

Airline’s emergency response
The source said that Bhoja Air has an emergency preparedness plan for these situations and that they weren’t caught unprepared, emphasising that after the 2010 tragedy they were especially stringent about developing a “backup” plan.

The CAA and Bhoja Air maintain that no flight can be given “air worthiness” status without meeting international standards and that the planes travel to other countries whose requirements must be met.

Naseem Ahmed of the CAA Safety Investigation Board claims that “Pakistan’s professionals, procedures and standards are up to par with international standards,” but in the same breath he says, “So many people have been through the CAA that they have failed to formulate a final policy and that is a collective failure.”

Ahmed added that no one at the CAA is in charge of tracking airline accidents, and if asked to provide an accident rate, the authority would take three months and still not be able to give a number. “We probably have the worst accident rate in the world, if not the worst, at least it is in the top three,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2012.

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