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January 14, 2019

Air safety


January 14, 2019

The initial report by the Safety Investigation Board into the 2016 PIA plane crash that killed all 47 people on board, including pop singer Junaid Jamshed, points to a serious lapse in safety procedures by the national carrier as well as regulatory oversight by the Civil Aviation Authority. The SIB has released a one-page preliminary report before even completing its full investigation because the mistakes it has found are so important that they need to be immediately addressed. According to the report, the crash was caused by a chain of events initially sparked by the dislodging of one turbine blade in an engine due to fatigue. These turbine blades are meant to be changed after being used for 10,000 hours but this was reportedly not done even though the engine itself was under maintenance less than a month before the fatal crash. The fault for this lies with PIA, says the SIB, while further investigation is needed into a possible lack of oversight by the CAA. There is still a lot we don’t know about the crash since one single event or mistake rarely causes a crash on its own. Hopefully, the full report will provide more answers. Until then, PIA and the CAA have a lot to answer for.

Three of the five deadliest air crashes in our history have taken place in the last year, including this PIA crash and the 2010 Air Blue and 2012 Bhoja Air crashes in Islamabad. Even if bad weather was a factor in the latter two crashes, subsequent investigations revealed concerns about the performance of the crew and safety of the aircraft. There clearly needs to be an overhaul of how safety inspections are carried out and in fact in the entire culture of the CAA. All too often, former employees of PIA end up working for the CAA. This revolving-door policy compromises the independence of the regulatory body.

Airline carriers too should realise that their first duty is not cutting costs but ensuring the safety of passengers. Using aircraft that are past their sell-by date and old or by using counterfeit spare parts or cutting corners on safety inspections are airline practices that put all our lives in danger. Strict punitive action needs to be taken against any airline that does not put safety first, including grounding their aircraft as necessary. How many more crashes will it take before the aviation industry is forced to pay for its criminal negligence?

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