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Air crash probe: independent body needed

August 01, 2013

SOON after the Bhoja crash in 2012, the government filed an FIR under Section 302 against the owners. It also constituted a judicial commission to determine whether the aircraft certificate of airworthiness was proper. These actions have not so far contributed to aviation safety.

Although the Islamabad High Court (IHC) has formed a commission, it is not yet known when it will start functioning and what it could achieve. Whenever there is an air crash or emergency on board, the most frequently-asked questions are: “Are we safe when on board a Pakistani-registered aircraft?” “Is an impartial and transparent investigation by competent investigators possible in Pakistan?” “Will the investigation report ever be made public?” “What is the future of aviation safety in Pakistan?”

The IHC has taken a visionary decision. The commission can revolutionise aviation safety provided its mandate is comprehensive and it establishes its credibility.

A similar judicial commission into Ontario F-28 Fokker crash in Canada in 1989 changed the philosophy of accident investigation. It brought changes in aviation regulations and recommended a permanent role for the judiciary in aviation.

In the US, the UK and Australia the judiciary has given similar judgments. It has put aside the myth of protected information, such as witness statements, information from digital flight data recorder or cockpit voice recorder. All was made public in the interest of safety.

These commissions did face many challenges, their mandate, reporting channels and ability to look into aviation matters were questioned by the operator, the regulator and the industry. The commissions had to fight legal battles in courts for their credibility. It conducted its proceeding in public, hired experts of international repute in aircraft accident investigation and looked outside the cockpit for contributing factors: into government policies, operator’s procedures and regulatory practices: which may have contributed to the accident. The general finding of ‘pilot error’ was the starting point for the commission.

The members of the families of victims, the media, civil society, aviation experts and persons belonging to the aviation industry must make use of this opportunity to appear before the commission and contribute to aviation safety.

In addition to helping it in determining the causes of the accident, the public can convince the commission about recommending for the establishment of an independent aircraft accident investigation organisation in Pakistan. The commission can give a timeframe to the government for implementing its recommendations.

S. NASEEM AHMED President, Society of Air Safety Investigators, Pakistan Karachi