Sunday, March 18, 2018

How safe are flights in Bangladesh?

Passengers on domestic flights in Bangladesh are intimately familiar with delays caused by technical or mechanical problems of the aircraft

The recent US-Bangla Airlines crash in Kathmandu, Nepal has revitalized the subject of aircraft safety in Bangladesh. Although mishaps are fairly common, no other aircraft accident has been as lethal or had as much impact as the Nepal crash.

Passengers on domestic flights in Bangladesh are intimately familiar with delays caused by technical or mechanical problems of the aircraft. For some passengers, emergency landings are part and parcel of their flights.

In October 2017, a Biman Bangladesh Airlines’ Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 aircraft – same as the one which crashed in Nepal – took off from Saidpur airport for Dhaka. It had to make an emergency landing because one of the wheels fell off after the plane took to the air. There were no casualties among the 71 onboard.

In late 2016, Biman suffered two incidents which, if conditions were unfavorable, could have been catastrophic. In December, a Boeing-737 from Oman to Chittagong had a ruptured tire during take-off, which was only discovered once the aircraft was in the air. The plane made two passes over Dhaka airport to let engineers survey the damage and assess its chances of landing without putting too much stress on the aircraft. The emergency landing was successful and nobody was injured.

The incident preceding it could have seen a wildly different Bangladesh had it gone through. A Boeing 777 carrying Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her retinue to Hungary experienced a rapid fall in fuel pressure, prompting the pilot to make an emergency landing in Turkmenistan.

A series of probe reports followed, which saw nine Biman Bangladesh employees arrested for negligence of duty.

US-Bangla Airlines has multiple records of engine failures among other technical malfunctions which have forced emergency landings, even on grass.

The question arises: how safe are the everyday domestic flights in Bangladesh?

According to the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB), on average a million people and 150,000 tons of cargo are carried by domestic flights every year.

Biman Bangladesh Airlines, US-Bangla Airlines, Regent Airlines and NOVOAIR operate dozens of flights every day out of the seven airports in Bangladesh.

Many passengers claimed the airlines and concerned authorities are failing to ensure safety.

Overworked pilots?

Generally, a pilot and first officer or co-pilot fly for four sectors (two round-trips). But it is a common practice among private airlines to have most pilots cover six sectors.

Captain Abid Sultan, pilot of the crashed US-Bangla aircraft, had flown four sectors before the Kathmandu trip.

A pilot’s work hours are eight hours a day, but most pilots work overtime because private airlines lack skilled crew.

There are allegations of private airlines not granting leave as per the job policy.

One pilot, on condition of anonymity, complained: “US-Bangla does not even grant the 21 days of annual leave. We have raised the matter several times, but they continuously disregarded our protests.”

Concerns have been raised about airlines management forcing pilots to fly even when circumstances recommend otherwise.

A pilot is more susceptible to make human errors during flight if s/he is exhausted.

In spite of the fact that human error accounts for over half of all aviation accidents, neither the government nor the CAAB authorities intervened despite the airlines’ persistence in overexerting the pilots.

Pilots are afraid to go public with allegations out of fear of getting blacklisted. But while remaining anonymous, they maintain their accusation that for the airlines profits are the bigger concern.

Horrifying violations of regulations

A correspondence between two pilots read: “The safety culture or truly speaking the ‘lack of it’ in private sector is simply outrageous!”

It is no less than terrifying to hear of a sinister understanding between private airlines and CAAB which involves flights taking off without due inspection, fitness examinations, and other crucial regulations by government gatekeepers.

But, Kamrul Islam, general manager US-Bangla Airlines, said: “US-Bangla has provided consistently excellent service to everyone before the accident. Now that there is an incident, everyone is digging up problems. This is just the nature of Bangladeshi people.”

CAAB Chairman Air-Vice Marshal M Naim Hassan said there are some minor violations, but did not agree with the allegations of widespread violations in civil aviation.

Original article can be found here ➤

Pilots open up in private: US-Bangla Airlines,  de Havilland Dash 8-400,  S2-AGU

The recent US-Bangla plane crash has suddenly brought out some bone-chilling allegations from a number of pilots of compromising flight safety by private airlines.

These pilots have been sending messages to The Daily Star, uploading posts in the social media, exchanging notes among them and discussing in private about how the airlines in their bid to maximize profit allegedly overwork their pilots, send-off flights even when the rules don't permit, or even sometimes hide defects because logging them would mean grounding of aircraft at a huge loss.

The March 12 tragedy, in which at least 51 people, including 28 Bangladeshis, were killed as the US-Bangla Airlines aircraft crashed and burst into flames while landing at the Kathmandu airport in Nepal, appeared to have deeply rattled the conscience of a rather small circle of pilots.

Some of them are urging others to stand up and start to say no to the compromises they routinely make under pressure of management.

“It's human lives that are at stake! This is what we pilots deal with every single day. It's a sacred duty, not the glamorous job the media portrays!” reads one of the passionate appeals that did the rounds on social media.

The Daily Star talked with half a dozen pilots. None of them wanted to have their names revealed because they fear their services would be jeopardized and none of the allegations could be independently verified.

But since the nature of allegations coming from a variety of aviators is similar, those deserve special attention for the sake of passengers' safety.

Though expressed in privacy, their opinions and concerns should be discreetly assessed by the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) and the government before taking appropriate actions to address the grim issues.

One pilot wrote: “This accident was just waiting to happen. The safety culture or truly speaking the 'lack of it' in private sector is simply outrageous!”

He alleged that pilots are forced by management to operate in situations where it's prudent not to fly. Maintaining flight schedule and commercial considerations take precedence over flight safety.

Another pilot, a captain, wrote: “We routinely observe private carriers shooting approaches well below the minimum visibility, departing for a destination with very marginal weather or visibility, compromising on technical issues, flying without weather radar, forbidding pilots to give entry in the engineering log especially at outstations as grounding would cost money!

“I've often seen Biman or other foreign carriers holding for visibility to improve in winter when …. [names of two private airlines] not only commencing approach but landing!!,” he wrote.

One pilot shared how he was forced to fly while he was trying to apply “pilot discretion” in a foggy morning of December last year.

“There was no permission to fly from tower for low visibility. A phone call came [from the head office] moments after I declined to fly the plane to Chittagong. I was shouted at and told to take off on the dot,” he told this newspaper.

My employer is a time-freak, and has ways to manage airport authorities, he said with a wry smile.

Many pilots also questioned how US-Bangla airlines could send a very inexperienced first officer as co-pilot to Kathmandu. The budget airline maintains such risky practice in absence of expert manpower on its payroll -- an allegation it routinely refutes. 

A Qatar Airways pilot believed that Captain Abid Sultan, pilot of the ill-fated US-Bangla plane, made a “massive pilot error” by doing dual jobs of communicating with the tower while landing at a dangerous airport like the one in Kathmandu.

“The captain took over communication and was also flying. And it's due to the inexperience of the first officer [who was reported to be on her first trip to Nepal].”    

A very seasoned pilot of Biman Bangladesh Airlines wrote: “I've heard many harrowing stories from our first officers who were in the private sector before. Even if there are some exaggerations, even if I consider only 25 percent of what they say is true, it is alarming.”

“Biman doesn't allow such inexperienced first officers even to fly to Cox's Bazar!” he continues.

The companies don't accept “no” for an answer when it comes to flying even in extreme conditions.

A captain, who flies Dreamliners for a Middle Eastern airline, alleged pilots were even fired from private companies for refusing to accept unsafe operation.

He mentioned that one local airline had its pilot fired because the aviator said he was “fatigued”. And fatigue comes from overwork.

One pilot was fired because he did not take off as the weather at the destination airport was below the minimum required. One pilot was fired because he complained about Saidpur airport's non-standard light.

Another Bangladeshi pilot working at a foreign airline thinks the reporting and follow-up at the Caab and within the airlines are not dependable. The airlines do not report safety issues to the Caab and the Caab also doesn't follow up.

Most of the pilots appeared quite critical of the role of some Caab officials.

They are the ones who keep the regulators' eyes and ears shut, alleged a Turkish Airline pilot, who worked for a private airline a few years back.

“Compromise is for money and gifts,” the pilot quipped.

Original article can be found here ➤

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