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April 21, 2012

Political pressure allowed Bhoja Air to relaunch

April 21, 2012

ISLAMABAD: Following the Friday evening's deadly crash of a Bhoja Air's Boeing-737 aircraft in Rawalpindi, nauseating revelations about the relaunching of the airline's operations as a "political favour" have surfaced, The News has learnt.

According to sources, the inauguration of Bhoja Air on March 3 2012 was only possible following the exertion of immense political pressure on the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) resulting in the Friday's disaster.

The Boeing-737-200 crashed on its approach to the Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Islamabad, on Friday evening at 6:35pm, killing all the 127 persons on board. The CAA sources have said that the 28-year-old plane was allowed to commence flights from April 20 although procedures and professional checks were not fully adhered to before doling out a licence to the Bhoja Air as a political favour.

"Flight safety rules and procedures and professional checks were not fully adhered to before doling out a licence to Bhoja Air as a political favour.

"Flight safety rules and procedures were seriously compromised by the concerned CAA officials before allowing Bhoja to operate its flights in Pakistan on different sectors," a highly-informed source told The News following the crash of Bhoja's 737-200, acquired from British Airways South Africa on a dry lease.

Bhoja was presented with one aircraft (Boeing-737-200), while their standby aircraft (DC-9) was never even brought to Pakistan and is currently parked at Dubai - though according to the regulations a full fleet of at least three aircraft with one standby should be made available to CAA for inspection and their air-worthiness and several other professional checks and flight safety procedure should strictly be ensured without any political or non-political pressures.

Bhoja Air's licence was issued following a decade of non-operation of the airlines, and that too allegedly under pressures exerted by one of the top guns of Finance

Ministry. Whether he used his connections with one of the top officials of the defence ministry for the issuing of a licence to Bhoja Air is a matter that needs to be probed by concerned investigators. However, it is more or less clear that former Director-General CAA Air Marshal (Retd) Khalid Chaudhry used his powers, rather bullied the CAA acting Director Flight Standards Captain Abid Hassan, currently in Germany, to issue a licence to Bhoja recently joined by one Arshad Jalil, who also has a role in Shaheen Airlines.

"To my information, Captain Abid Hassan resisted a lot but finally he succumbed to the pressures from his boss, CAA DG Khalid Ch, to issue permission at around 9.00 pm some two months back," alleged the source.

The CAA bypassed all standard rules and procedures in granting a licence to Bhoja Air, which Friday resulted in the loss of precious human lives and placed a big glaring question mark on flight safety standards in Pakistani aviation, with people saying that one Obaid Jaoti is the uncrowned king of aviation in Pakistan.

Some sources say that both Captain Abid Hassan and his present acting successor Captain Zafar Mehmood had not even completed their flight inspection courses (FIC), though it was essential that in Pakistan the person undergoing the FIC should have completed at least 5,000 hours as pilot-in-command. In India, it is 10,000 hours for any plot-in-command to complete the FIC. Captain Abid and Captain Mehmood had reportedly completed only a few hundred hours as pilots-in-command, and thus were not even fully qualified to carry out inspections and professional checks of the aircraft.

With such dicey affairs swirling within the CAA echelons headed by a political appointee Captain Nadim Yousufzai, many demand that an independent inquiry be ordered without the involvement of the defence ministry or CAA as neither would dig nor bring to the surface the truth, which is likely to be a primary casualty in this case.

The Pakistan Airlines Pilot Association (PALPA) has been demanding an independent inquiry on many occasions in the past, especially following the crash of Air Blue's A-320; however this request fell on deaf ears, and the subsequent inquiry spoke volumes about the apathy and callous attitude on the part of authorities in Pakistan. "An Independent Board of Inquiry should be constituted to fix the responsibility of such a colossal air crash which [has] left the nation stunned," claimed a senior official.

Many officials have termed Bhoja fight operations "illegal and without observing rules and procedures."Experts opine that there may be many causes for such a crash, though apparently it looks like a micro burst in the CB clouds resulted in the Bhoja disaster.

Both pilots of the ill-fated plane - Captain Noorullah Afridi and first officer Javed Malik -were former Air Force GD pilots (GD-59 Course) and joined Bhoja Air after their retirement from PAF.

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