Since its inauguration in May this year, the new Islamabad airport continues to confound not only passengers but government agencies also because of its poor construction standard as well as the lapses of its officials. I recall having to wait two hours once on a domestic flight only to be able to collect my lone piece of checked-in luggage. It was not an isolated incident. Passengers have also reported frustrating hour long waits for the aero-bridge to connect to the airplane for them to disembark.
The problems cannot entirely be blamed on the Civil Aviation Authority, which manages the facility. They have inherited a white elephant.
Some months after a brand-new aerobridge collapsed and the ceiling of one of the airport’s main baggage handling section also came down, we are told that the customs cargo (airfreight unit) building at airport has started caving in.
Initially, small cracks appeared on the walls along with a leakage from the drain in the office of a senior officer and other rooms but the cracks started increasing day by day. Poor plumbing in Islamabad is legendary. But for an airport where billions have been spent, this has become a national shame.
Within a month of its inauguration, sewage lines had choked in parts of this airport. Public areas have also seen water streaming down from the roof.
In the case of the customs cargo building, it was reported that a portion of the building is now caving in. It has now been decided that the building was no longer safe for use and alternative arrangements – two rooms – are now being used.
The airfreight unit office was shifted to the newly-constructed building on May 1, two days before the new airport was formally opened. Every day almost 200 to 250 people come to work in the building. The building also houses a post office and bank branch. Imagine the chaos that will now ensue.
In another incident some months back, five officials working at the airport were injured in two separate incidents that happened on the same day. A CAA official was injured when an aerobridge collapsed, while four employees of a private handling company suffered injuries when the ceiling of the baggage handling section collapsed.
Eyewitnesses said that as Gulf Airline’s flight GF771, heading from Islamabad to Bahrain, began to taxi, it was separated from a passenger boarding bridge which then collapsed. As a result, many international airlines have decided not to use the boarding bridge at the airport and prefer buses for their passengers.
After these two incidents, a four-member inquiry board headed by Deputy Director General of Airport Services Syed Amir Mehboob and including Director Projects Lahore Airport Siddiqur Rehman, Manager Peshawar Airport Ubaidur Rehman, and Senior Deputy Director Kamal Khan has been constituted. Their TORs are restricted. A larger inquiry needs to be held.
In yet another incident, media reported that the airport manager of the Islamabad Airport was transferred after stray dogs were seen wandering the facility’s premises on video. At least five stray dogs were roaming outside the airport’s lounge barking at passengers proceeding towards the parking area with their luggage.
Hardly seven months have passed since the new IIA was constructed at a cost of over Rs105 billion. This is taxpayer money that was used. The airport itself saw years of delays owing to which the cost ballooned.
In 2014, a government spokesman said the PC-1 amounting to Rs37 billion based on rough cost estimates was prepared in 2007 to facilitate the ground-breaking ceremony of the airport.
But the design of the airport was not finalised, therefore, the PC-1 was deficient of certain important components of the airport which included ATC complex, baggage handling and security system, ILS system and airfield lighting system.
After the receipt of these designs, a detailed revised PC-1 was prepared based on the costs given by an unnamed engineer, which amounted to Rs81 billion. At the end, the airport cost much more.
At the time, the spokesman said the airport shall be one of the finest airports of the region and shall surely go a long way in improving the image of Pakistan worldwide. So much for that. It is not CAA that is to blame. Those who built this airport need to be brought to book.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2018.