The crash of Bhoja Air’s Boeing 737-200 is the third major accident involving Pakistan’s private airlines and the fourth within a span of two years, making the country’s record one of the worst in terms of aviation safety, experts said.
The accident comes 16 months after Airblue’s Airbus-321 crashed on July 28, 2010 into the Margalla Hills near Islamabad. It was Pakistan’s worst air accident involving a private carrier in which 158 people were killed. A few months later, while the country was coming to terms with the tragedy, a small 19-seat aircraft of JS Air crashed a few kilometres from Jinnah International Airport Karachi on 4 November 2010. Soon after the Beech 1900 took off, the pilot reported engine failure. The plane made a U-turn for the runway, but plunged down in a cantonment area. All 21 people onboard were killed.
Still reeling from these devastating events, Russian airline Sun Ways’ IL-76 aircraft crashed in Karachi on 28 November 2010, killing 11 people including three on the ground. That year was the deadliest in Pakistan’s aviation history. Three horrific plane crashes in the space of four months raised serious questions about the safety of the aircraft operating in Pakistan and the competence of the federal aviation body, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
“Something is fundamentally wrong with the way CAA is operating,” said Naseem Ahmed, the man who investigated the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Fokker crash in 2006. He is also the author of a book on aircraft accidents. “So many accidents happening within a span of few months is not right. I personally believe the government needs to let CAA work independently,” he added.
The CAA is currently headed by Nadeem Khan Yousufzai, a serving pilot of PIA.
Former director general of CAA Farooq Rehmatullah said Bhoja Air was grounded in the late 1990s after the airline defaulted on aviation dues and repeatedly failed to meet flight safety standards. He also gave a harrowing account of the pressures imposed by the government on such matters. “In my experience I have seen how government officials from the prime minister to the chief minister try to pressurise you,” he claimed. “Sometimes they want you to allow a medically unfit pilot fly a jet or want to take a helicopter which has not cleared the flight inspection test. That is the time when the regulator must put its foot down and say no!”
The CAA’s Safety Inspection Board (SIB) President Khawaja Majeed said it was too early to say anything about the cause of the accident. “We have mobilised teams to gather all the evidence.” The second-hand Boeing 737-200 aircraft which Bhoja Air bought from a South African company was given an air permit on March 5, 2012, a CAA official stated.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2012.