KARACHI: A twin-rotor small aircraft flying on a training exercise made an emergency landing along the Super Highway, 17 miles from Karachi, after one of its engines failed and the plane lost altitude.
“The Piper Seneca of private training institute Schon Air was on a routine flying lesson,” said Pervez George, the spokesman of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). “It was heading back to Karachi from Nawabshah but had to dive for a landing after one of its two engines developed a problem.”
Schon Air was not available for comment. And the CAA could not immediately confirm what kind of a problem the aircraft faced. There were three people onboard, including chief instructor Mazhar.
CAA Safety Investigation Board’s Khawaja Majeed visited the site of the crash to collect evidence. He did not state the cause of the accident.
This is fourth major aircraft accident in Pakistan in fifteen months. Private airliner Airblue’s Airbus-321 crashed on July 28, 2010 into the Margalla Hills near Islamabad. It was Pakistan’s worst aircraft accident involving a private carrier in which 158 people were killed.
In November last year, a small 19-seat Beach 1900 of JS Air crashed a few kilometres from the Karachi airport just minutes after takeoff. All 21 people onboard were killed.
Then days later, Russian airline Sun Ways’ IL-76 aircraft crashed, killing 11 people including three on the ground.
Pakistan has a poor track record of releasing aircraft accident reports to the public. The government never made public the findings of investigations into the 2006 PIA plane crash. All 45 people, including the crew, lost their lives in that incident.
CAA Director General Khalid Chaudhry said that the pilot flying Schon’s Piper plane was lucky to find a deserted spot to land. “It’s incredible that they landed smoothly. A lot of lives could have been lost if it had come down in the city.”
CAA has been pushing for stringent controls over the airlines using Pakistani airspace, he said. “I don’t know what actually happened in this particular case but we will investigate it.”
Chaudhry said that CAA made sure that airlines and charter service providers follow safety rules. “But we, as people, have a tendency to always go for the shortcuts to save time, overseeing some of the safety aspects.”
There are 24 charter service providers in the country operating around 85 small aircraft. Since 1953, there have been 23 major accidents in which around 1,000 people have lost their lives, according to Naseem Ahmed, a former CAA aircraft accident investigator.
“The statistics of minor accidents involving aircraft are important. We don’t even have that,” he said. “That will tell us where exactly the loopholes are. But one thing is for sure that in the last two years aviation safety is increasingly being compromised.”
CAA officials cannot inspect every aircraft, he said. “You can’t possibly check every nut and bolt. But the airlines could be made to strictly follow a standard safety procedure.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2011.