Loopholes in Airport emergency drill

Published Apr 14, 2012 08:26pm

Civil Aviation Authority holding full scale Airport Emergency Exercise at Jinnah International Airport.            —APP photo by Sahib Zaman

KARACHI: A full-scale airport emergency exercise carried out at the Jinnah Terminal on Saturday suggested that a lot was needed to be done to bring the emergency response of the Civil Aviation Authority at par with international standards.

The exercise was delayed by over an hour as the PIA aircraft, a Boeing 747, to be used in the exercise, arrived late as it got delayed at Madina.

The evacuation exercise, involving over 104 passengers, took over 20 minutes, as against the standard requirement of 90 seconds for the full load of passengers — in case of Boeing 747 over 400 passengers. Only two doors were used. The emergency escape chute of one of the doors could not be opened so that door was closed.

The first door, near the nose, was then opened as it had the operational chute. The second door that was opened was the last door near the tail, but passengers were evacuated through stairs and not by a chute from that door. When asked, airport manager Nasir Sheikh insisted that the last door in the B-747 aircraft did not have a chute and therefore the stairs were used.

The exercise began with a fake fire after which an emergency was declared and firefighters, ambulances, etc rushed in. The fire was extinguished and then the crew opened one of the doors. However, after waiting for so many minutes and making many efforts, they could not open the escape chute.

After wasting so many minutes, the crew moved to another door having an operational chute and started to evacuate the passengers. First children were sent out followed by women.

The evacuated passengers stood near the aircraft and the crew announced that they got away from the aircraft. On the ground, paramedics quickly brought the injured to the ambulances and carried out dressing, while one of the injured passengers was shifted through a helicopter.

The B-747 aircraft have 10 doors on the lower deck and two on the upper deck, which are usually used in emergencies, and all should have been used in an emergency. Emergency escape chutes are fixed in all the doors and should be operational for safety reasons. If some doors were malfunctioning or chutes were non-operational and the aircraft had to be used, fewer passengers who could use that door in emergency are carried, according to sources.

The media was invited at the last moment and no briefing was held either before the start or after the conclusion of the exercise to give a correct picture.

The official time of the evacuation could be known through the report of umpires, but it certainly was way longer than the required 90 seconds, showing that a lot of improvement was needed.

Meanwhile, a statement issued by CAA spokesperson Pervez George said the exercise was conducted after every two years at all airports being a mandatory requirement of the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

“Its purpose is primarily to practise standard operating procedure of all agencies deployed in and around the airport to depict as actual happening of an emergency at any airport in Pakistan,” he said, adding that this exercise went very well in which CAA firefighters, the Airport Security Force, the army, Pakistan International Airlines, private airlines, all ambulance services, including Edhi, Chhipa, St John, Civil Hospital, Jinnah Hospital, Aga Khan Hospital, city fire brigade, Pakistan Air Force, Princely Jet Helicopter, police, etc, took part.

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