In an attempt to be seen as performing its job after the Bhoja Air crash, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has now ordered an inspection of every aircraft owned by private airlines. Although the CAA is trying to be proactive in responding to the crash, this is actually a reactive move. It is the job of the CAA to regulate airline safety and in fact, it should have ensured that all airplanes were safe to be flown long before the Bhoja Air tragedy. Nonetheless, belated though the move may be, the CAA must now carry out safety inspections that are thorough, even if it means disrupting the schedules of airlines. The safety inspections should be expanded to include the national airline. When it comes to safety in the skies, shortcuts are not an option.
The rest of us need to be patient because investigations into airline crashes can take many months. The very last thing we need is for politicians to advance their political interests at a time of a national tragedy. The early signs are not encouraging. Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali has already blasted the judicial commission set up to investigate the crash, saying that it had been appointed without the advice of the judiciary. He also accused the president of trying to cover up the tragedy. However, this accusation is without merit. There is no reason to believe that the president had any involvement with Bhoja Air and Chaudhry Nisar Ali could not explain why he would try to cover up the causes of the crash. Indeed, it is not too cynical to suggest that if a judicial commission had not been formed so speedily, the opposition would then have accused the president of dragging his feet.
What is clear at this moment is that Pakistan’s airline industry needs strong regulation. On April 23, an airplane of Shaheen Air had to make an emergency landing in Karachi after its tyres burst, causing the runway to be closed for several hours. Such incidents will now come under greater scrutiny as the public’s fear of air travel grows. Only the CAA can assuage the legitimate fears that have now sprung up after the Bhoja Air crash. Transparency, not obfuscation and excuse-making, is vital to restoring confidence in the airline industry.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 24th, 2012.
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