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Fair investigations

Opinion

May 30, 2020

Just two days before Eid, the tragic incident of the PIA plane crash saddened the entire country. First of all, my condolences to the bereaved families whose dear ones were traveling to celebrate Eid in Karachi.

It is an open secret that some former employees of PIA helped transform many foreign airlines, including Emirates, which are success stories of today. PIA not only provided professional human resource but also trained employees of these newly-established airlines.

Today, Emirates is considered one of the world’s safest airlines, with several flights around the world on a daily basis. In 2016, its international passenger flight flying from India crashed while landing at Dubai International Airport. However, all passengers and crew members were rescued safely. The rate of worldwide air traffic fatalities is comparatively very lesser.

Unfortunately, hundreds of innocent lives are lost in several airline crashes in Pakistan. In 2010, a Airblue aircraft crashed in Margalla Hills, near Islamabad. It is considered the deadliest air disaster in our national history. Just after two years, a Bhoja Air plane crashed. In 2016, a PIA plane faced horrific accident while flying towards Islamabad. And now, another PIA passenger plane failed to land safely and crashed in a crowded area near the Karachi Airport.

Every tragic accident succeeds to echo in the media for few days. Many conspiracy theories also emerge on social media. Every time, inquiries committees are formed but alas, these committee never ever make their findings available to the public. If preemptive SOPs can be followed for international flights then why are such precautions neglected for domestic flights?

Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a tweet immediately after the plane crash, announced an immediate inquiry into the tragic accident. In this regard, the federal government has constituted an investigation team, headed by Air Commodore Muhammad Usman Ghani, president of the Aircraft Accident and Investigation Board. French experts also reached Karachi to contribute in the investigation process.

However, the demand by the Pakistan Airlines’ Pilots Association (Palpa) seems logical; they are demanding the involvement of Palpa and other international bodies, including the International Civil Aviation Organisation and International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations. Palpa has also expressed serious reservations over past investigations.

According to a joint statement issued by several trade union activists, the history of plane crash inquiry commissions in Pakistan has been quite sordid with reports being doctored and tampered with and many times these reports have not been released at all.

The prime responsibility for conducting technical inspection of aircraft belongs to the Engineering Department. The said department has surplus staff due to political appointees by previous governments. It seems that around 4,000 engineers are unable to maintain only 38 planes. Similarly, the Civil Aviation Authority, in the absence of a full-time head, has also failed to play its due role of regulator and of managing airport operations smoothly. This is the reason that a proposal for outsourcing airports has already emerged.

The role of Pak Army and Rangers for relief and rescue efforts could be termed remarkable. Several philanthropist and welfare organizations, including Edhi Trust and Chhipa have also been carrying out selfless activities. Despite heavy losses, local residents also came forward to save the victims. However, the Sindh government has disappointed. Due to lack of coordination among different hospitals, family members of deceased passengers are still facing many hurdles in receiving the dead bodies. Similarly, the NDMA was also not seen on the incident site.

The recent tragedy is the first airline accident during the tenure of Imran Khan'a government. In my view, a fair and transparent inquiry must be ensured to identify the real responsibility. The practice of blaming the deceased pilot and terming the plane ill-fated must be discouraged. Meanwhile, all aircraft must be examined thoroughly by international technical experts on an immediate basis. Let’s pray that no plane faces a similar tragic fate in the future.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani