The incident involving a pushback tug and a brand-new Serene Air Boeing 737-800 at Benazir International airport on Monday 6th January has become fodder for the conspiracy theorists. Both the tug and the aircraft were damaged. The aircraft to the untrained eye appears to have suffered superficial damage, but it is probably made of composite materials that will require specialist repair, and it is at least possible that there is internal damage as well. The nosewheel unit may need replacement and the aircraft is likely to be grounded for weeks. Fixing this glitch may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. It may be expected that insurers are already on-site and the airline will be looking to recover costs from the airport management.
As far as the conspiracy theories go they were debunked by pkaviation.com as well as industry safety experts commenting on pictures in the public domain. The consensus appears to be that this was an avoidable accident and that incorrect equipment — the towtug — may have been deployed. The damaged aircraft was one of three in the Serene Air fleet which at a stroke has lost a third of its operational capacity, and an airline spokesman who said that repairs may take a week was being wildly upbeat. The airline got its licence in October 2016 and flew its first operations on 29th January 2017.
The incident points up the desperate need for the new Islamabad airport to be commissioned. The current Benazir Bhutto Airport now has four domestic carriers operating in a space that is increasingly crowded — and plenty of opportunity for mishaps such as this to occur. The airport has been referred to as little more than a glorified ‘Lari adda’ and whilst that is something of a stretch the analogy is not entirely offbeam. There are optimistic reports that the new airport will be ready for operation by the middle of this year, but key infrastructure, particularly road links to Islamabad, have yet to be completed. This unfortunate incident was cock-up not conspiracy, and sadly more of the same might be expected.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 8th, 2017.