KARACHI: Relaunched after 11 years, the Bhoja Air has come to yet another challenging phase in its problem-ridden history when its maiden flight carrying 127 persons on board crashed near Chaklala, Rawalpindi, on Friday evening.
The unfortunate incident, within a month of the relaunch, has reduced the airline's fleet to just three aircraft, a development that will undoubtedly result in increased financial worries for the airline as it was a leased aircraft that went down over Rawalpindi.
Aviation experts say that the loss of the aircraft is likely to severely disturb the schedule of flights and will also dent any expansion plans that the Bhoja Air might have harboured.
The Bhoja fleet consisted of four Boeing 737-200 aircraft out of which one has crashed and one is yet to be delivered. The airline also has a Boeing 737-400 aircraft. Bhoja has also leased a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 on short term, till the additional Boeing 737s join the fleet.
According to reports, the Bhoja Airline was a defaulter of more than Rs6.9 million of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) but it was nonetheless allowed to resume operations by the Ministry of Defence.
Financial difficulties and woes had forced the Bhoja Air to suspend its operations in 2001 although its airline licence, issued by the CAA, remained valid and it maintained a fully functional headquarter office in Karachi as well as an operations and ramp office at the Karachi airport.
In November 2011, the Bhoja Air announced that it planned to restart operations in 2012. Bhoja Air's founder Chairman M Farouk Omar Bhoja installed a new management, including former Shaheen Air Managing Director (MD) M Arshad Jalil.
The unfortunate Bhoja flight departed from Karachi at 5:00pm (local time), and was bound for Islamabad. The control tower of Islamabad's International Airport lost contact with the passenger jet at 6:40pm.
Bhoja Air's head of media affairs Chaudhry Salman said that at the moment it looked as if the plane had crashed due to the bad weather conditions. He also quoted an eyewitness who said that the aircraft was struck by lightning before plummeting to the ground. Salman added that rescue activities were going on at the moment, and the inspection and examination of the black-box would help in identifying the reason for the crash afterwards.
The crash occurred near the Chaklala Airbase, which is used by the Pakistan Air Force and is adjacent to the Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad.It should also be mentioned here that in 2010, 152 people were killed when an Air Blue plane crashed on the outskirts of Islamabad.