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Only six ATR aircraft out of 12 are functional, PIA tells SHC

By Jamal Khurshid
January 22, 2020

Only six out the total 12 ATR aircrafts of the Pakistan International Airlines are functional, while rest of the half are grounded due to non-airworthiness, a PIA counsel told the Sindh High Court on Tuesday.

Hearing a petition seeking judicial inquiry into the December 2016 flight PK-661 crash inquiry in which 42 passengers, including singer-turned-preacher Junaid Jamshed and his wife and crew members, had lost their lives, a division bench headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar took exception over non-filing of reply by the civil aviation authority with regard to the maximum age of an ATR with flying hours.

In a report submitted to the court, the lawyer submitted that out of the total 12 ATR aircrafts, seven were ATR-42-500 and five ATR-72-500.

Breaking it down, the counsel of the PIA said three of the seven ATR-42-500 were operational while the rest of the aircrafts were grounded due to lack of spheres, structural issues, and runway excursion. Similarly, he said three aircrafts of five ATR-72-500 were operational while two were grounded due to collision incident and prolonged grounding.

He also submitted details of the ATRs, including their manufacturing date, date of induction in the PIA fleet and total hours of running. The court however observed that neither did the PIA provide the maximum number of flying hours nor had it mentioned its criterion to discard the aircraft from the fleet. The court observed that the PIT had not told it about the exact discarding age of the aircraft from the fleet in the report.

The SHC observed that the joint director airworthiness and the law officer of the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had appeared before the court but they failed to file any reply. The court observed that the CAA officials did not response about the court query about the maximum age of ATR with flying hours.

The court issued notice to the CAA director airworthiness to appear in person for assistance of the court.

The SCH also took exception over non-appearance of a CAA official who was dealing with regard to the PK-661 crash inquiry. The court observed that the secretary aviation was directed to depute their relevant officer to attend the court proceedings along with the progress report of the pending inquiry but no officer from the federal law office or the CAA appeared before the court to appraise it about the latest position.

The court issued show cause notice to the secretary aviation to reply as why compliance of the court order was not made in letter and spirit and submit his reply on February 18.

The petitioner, namely Syed Iqbal Kazmi, told the court that an Islamabad-bound flight of the national flag carrier had crashed after it took off from Chitral on December 7, 2016. He said the CAA director general had written to his seniors making startling disclosures about the functioning of ATR planes.

The petitioner said that 20 incidents were recorded in which the engines of ATR planes used by the national flag carrier had stopped during flights. Besides, 90 cases of ATR planes’ removal of engines were recorded as well, he added.

He said that despite having knowledge of the defects in the aircraft, the respondents did not take precautionary measures to avoid accidents and save previous lives.

He argued that after the occurrence of such incidents in the past, it was the constitutional obligation of the cabinet division secretary, the CAA DG and the PIA chairman to refrain from purchasing outdated planes, using them and risking the lives of the passengers and crew members.

Kazmi claimed that the respondents had violated Article 9 of the Constitution as well as the civil aviation rules. He pleaded for a judicial inquiry into the crash to fix responsibility on the relevant officials and prosecute them, and for ordering compensation to the legal heirs of the victims.

He requested the SHC to direct the respondents to ground all the planes currently being used by the PIA and to order their inspection by the CAA or any other independent investigating agency or department.