Flights of fancy

Over the past decade, we have renamed our airports but done little else to improve them.


Kamal Siddiqi November 18, 2012

First impressions, they say, are last impressions. And if one comes to Pakistan via one of our airports, the experience is usually poor. Over the past decade, we have renamed our airports but done little else to improve them.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which is both regulator of the aviation sector as well as the entity managing these airports, is poorly run. It continues to fleece both airlines and passengers but gives little in return. While it spends millions on VIP lounges where the patrons pay nothing extra, the common taxpaying public has to endure crumbling infrastructure and terrible service.

One has to visit the grand sounding Bacha Khan International Airport in Peshawar or the equally grandiosely-named Benazir Bhutto International Airport Islamabad (which is located in Rawalpindi) to better understand what is happening. Parking is almost always full, trolleys are damaged, check-in counters are faulty, toilets are filthy, luggage belts are broken, the café serves stale food and buses that transport passengers to planes seem to belong to the junkyard. People smoke as they please. No complaint redressal system is in place.

The CAA reaps one of the highest levies in the region (initially imposed to collect money for X-ray machines) through the government. Thanks to unrealistic taxes, for example, the cost of a flight to Delhi from Karachi is double when compared to Islamabad, while flying time is almost the same.

Instead of pulling them to task, loyalists continue to be stuffed into the CAA — most recently, the reappointment of its chief. The “first-brother-in-law” has also been made the chief financial officer (CFO) despite being a medical doctor and having no qualifications in finance. As a consequence, the lady who was the CFO was accommodated in a technical area for which she has no qualifications or experience. This is a trend.

Thousands of lives are at stake if the regulator does not do its job.

It’s one thing to run airports poorly, another to compromise the work of a regulator.

This week, the media highlighted a report on the July 2010 Air Blue air crash of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the world body of aviation sector regulatory entities. All 152 people died in that crash. The ICAO questioned the independence of the body investigating the crash and stated that a lot of key information had been removed or changed in the final report. It also pointed out that critical information about the plane and its crew was missing and pointed its finger at the Ministry of Defence, the parent body of the CAA, for this.

As things stand, we have almost never released independent reports on airplane crashes in Pakistan. And when, as in the case of Air Blue, they do see the light, they are usually incorrect. One wonders where the loyalties of the government lie.

Now, let us turn to the more recent Bhoja Air crash which took place earlier this year. A total of 127 persons lost their lives. The CAA continues to play the role of the sleeping regulator. The bigger question here is: why was this company given a licence in the first place to operate air services in Pakistan?

On the basis of its poor previous record (dues worth billions owed to different entities), the fact that it had little or no training facilities of its own (which is a mandatory requirement) and that photocopies of manuals were submitted to fulfil paperwork, the required certificate was withheld by one senior officer in the CAA.

But so much pressure was applied by a technocrat minister in the cabinet, that the then defence secretary had no option but to oblige and order the CAA chief to do the needful.

Such was the rush to allow Bhoja Air to fly that a PIA flight to Multan was kept waiting as the relevant documents were signed by the required official who was in Multan with the prime minister and then flown back. In any other country, the aviation regulator chief would have resigned. In Pakistan, he was promoted.

No one has been sacked for the Air Blue or Bhoja Air disasters. In fact, most in command then have been rewarded. There is no remorse in the powers of corridor. Hundreds of families have been destroyed but the government continues to function as if nothing happened. Bring the guilty to justice? You must be joking.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 19th, 2012.

COMMENTS (12)

maria | 9 years ago | Reply

.Thus your article proves that people have full liberty to do whatever they want to do.a gloomy fact.

maria | 9 years ago | Reply

Thus your article proves that people have full liberty to do whatever they want to do.a gloomy fact.

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