Just three days after the fatal Bhoja Air plane crash, two more airliners narrowly escaped disasters on Sunday, prompting the authorities to order a ‘shakedown inspection’ of the fleets of all private airlines.
Under the ‘shakedown inspection’ – which includes checking fitness of the planes as well as crew members – all private airlines will have to seek fresh fitness certificates for their fleet amid growing public concern about the safety of their aircraft.
The defence ministry’s move followed two near-air disasters in Karachi and Lahore.
In the first incident, Shaheen Air’s Boeing 737-400, coming from Islamabad, made an emergency landing at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport after its rear left tyre burst, breaking the landing gear and blocking the runway for eight hours.
Hours later, panicked passengers of Shaheen Air’s Iran-bound flight had to be disembarked due to a fuel leakage at Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport. However, no one was hurt in both incidents.
The incidents, which happened in quick succession, prompted strict action from the defence ministry. Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar told state-run television that the fleet of all the private airlines have been grounded for fitness checking.
Aircraft detected with standards lower than the international criterion will be barred from flying and pilots will also undergo fitness checking, the minister added.
However, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) later clarified that all the aircraft were not grounded for fitness checking simultaneously.
Parvez George told The Express Tribune that all private airlines would be asked to provide one schedule at a time for a detailed inspection of each of their aircraft. “The complete inspection of an aircraft can take at least two days,” George added.
Karachi emergency landing
In Karachi, Shaheen Air’s flight NL-122 proceeded to land around midday. But the minute the plane touched down, its landing gear broke down and the aircraft dragged for a few metres before coming to a halt.
All the passengers and crew members were safely disembarked. However, it took the CAA staff eight hours to remove the airliner from the runway.
CAA spokesperson George confirmed that the runway had to be closed for eight hours. “The plane’s landing gear was broken, so we could not tow it,” he added.
Six incoming flights had to be diverted to other cities while eight domestic and international flights were delayed. Hundreds of passengers booked on these flights remained stranded at the airport.
According to Shaheen Air’s spokesperson Farooq Nasir, there were 160 passengers on board flight NL-122.
While explaining the possible reasons for the crash landing, Karachi Airport Manager Nasir Sheikh said that tyres could burst if a plane does not land properly. “Sometimes, if one side touches down before the other, it can break the landing gear of an aircraft.”
Lahore fuel leak
In Lahore, meanwhile, another Shaheen Air flight NL-742 was stopped just before the takeoff due to a leakage in one of its fuel tanks.
According to the Allama Iqbal International Airport website, the scheduled departure time of the Mashhad-bound flight was 10:45am but it was delayed on ‘operational grounds’ till 2:00pm.
The flight was then given the green signal. According to the CAA spokesperson, the aircraft was again stopped just before the takeoff due to the leakage of fuel from one of its tanks.
An official on the airline’s inquiry counter said that the fuel tank overflowed and that it did not leak. He also revealed that there were 91 passengers on board the Mashhad-bound flight.
After a long delay, passengers refused to fly on the same plane and were consequently shifted to three hotels in Lahore, a source said.
The Shaheen Air spokesperson accused the media of sensationalising the events.
“The media has played up these incidents, especially the second one,” Farooq Nasir said. “The aircraft are properly checked by our engineers. And the regulator would not allow anything to fly that is technically unfit.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2012.