Exactly a year ago, 21-year-old Syeda Rabab Zehra Naqvi, sitting on her aisle seat, messaged her father that her flight is ready for takeoff from Karachi. Accompanied by five fellow ‘parliamentarians,’ Rabab was on her way to attend the fifth session of the Youth Parliament in Islamabad.
Five rows in front of her sat a newly-married couple, Owais and Romaisa Khan, en route their honeymoon.
Down the aisle sat Abdul Ghani’s son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren while further down, in the 21st row sat Ali Sherazi, with a promising public relations career. There were at least 152 such stories, 146 passengers and six crew, on board the Airblue flight ED 202 that took off from Karachi, for Islamabad, on that fateful July 28, 2010 morning.
A year later, surviving family members still await closure. They have yet to find out what caused this crash and why they lost their loved ones. The airline and the government’s apathy towards the air crash investigation, and making public its findings, does not help heal their wounds.
Making the report public
It is a moral and legal obligation of the government, which regulates the aviation industry through the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), to ensure that proper investigation is carried out into accidents involving any aircraft within Pakistani airspace, or any Pakistan-registered aircraft in international airspace.
Ensuring that investigation findings are made public is imperative not just to provide closure to victims’ families but also help avert future accidents – a standard practice adopted globally.
Aircraft manufacturers also distribute accident reports to all airlines using their aircraft, so that they may learn from others’ mistakes, incorporate amendments to standard operating procedures and rectify any technical lapses in design that may have contributed to a particular accident. Expecting the same in a country as bureaucratic and opaque as Pakistan, however, is futile. Pakistan has one of the worst track records as far as air accident investigations are concerned.
While the Airblue crash was the deadliest air accident within Pakistan, state-owned Pakistan International Airlines has been involved in three major accidents in its history: 1965 in Cairo, 1979 in Taif and 1992 in Nepal. Over a 100 people died in each of these accidents and not a single investigation report has been made public.
Conflict of interest?
It was feared, from the very outset, that there would be a cover-up and that increasingly appears to be the case.
Reports suggest that investigators have not found any indication of technical malfunction and the cause is attributed to operational lapses.
But the accident investigation team has delayed publishing these findings, not least because of the politically well-connected owner of Airblue, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz MNA Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
Meanwhile the CAA, which leads the investigations into the accident, is not just an aviation regulator – it also owns and operates airports, air traffic control and the navigation aid systems which could have played a part in the accident. Is it this inherent conflict of interest that is hampering the publication of air crash investigation or sheer negligence, corruption and lack of accountability?
The writer is an independent aviation analyst.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2011.