Tragedy on Margalla Hills

Published: July 28, 2010

KARACHI: This is with reference to your live updates on the tragic Air Blue plane crash in Islamabad (July 28). The aircraft was on its second attempt to land. The pilot’s first approach (and I know because I am a pilot myself) was a ‘go around’, a phrase pilots use for the execution of a missed approach to landing.

When on a limited precision approach to the airport a pilot must have some visual reference to the runway, in order to proceed. The instrument landing system, called the ILS, in Islamabad does not allow planes to descend beyond 300 feet if no visual reference is made to the normally used runway called Runway 30. To avoid unfavourable winds and bad weather, planes these days are using the runway in the opposite direction called Runway 12 but this means that the approach has to be from the side of the Margalla Hills.

Without reverse track-sensing equipment, this can get tricky, but this aircraft was probably equipped with everything like GPS-aided terrain recognition and proximity warning that would have alerted the pilot to the existence of high ground such as a hill. The plane probably had enough fuel to fly back to Karachi, an option the pilot should have taken rather than fall victim to trying to land in such bad weather.

Or maybe it was the radar controllers that put the plane on minimum vectoring – these, instead of pilots, guide planes when turns have to be made. Or maybe the pilot felt that the plane was low enough for a contact approach (visually identifying ground while progressing) and a cloud came in front of the aircraft. Only an investigation will tell what really happened. As a pilot, I do not take chances especially when children are on board. I feel the best thing is to fly back and fly safely some other time. I flew out of Islamabad only yesterday and knew instantly I had to be extremely careful.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2010.

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