PESHAWAR: The PIA plane crash on Wednesday has shone the spotllight on a judgement of the Peshawar High Court and recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to make the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) Safety and Investigation Board (SIB) an independent and autonomous body.

The SIB, which investigates air accidents, previously came into the limelight after the Airblue plane crash of July 2010 when the PHC had questioned its functioning under the CAA and later the ICAO had also put forward recommendations after investigating the disaster.

While in Oct 2013 the high court had disposed of a writ petition jointly filed by MNA Marvi Memon and relatives of some passengers of the Airblue flight, it was given an assurance by the federal government that a summary spelling out the outlines of a proposed law for the SIB’s autonomy had already been prepared for submission to the prime minister.

However, legal experts said the bill was still pending before a committee of the Senate. Similarly, no changes have been made in the rules that require the CAA director general to appoint investigators in case of an accident.

CAA Director General retired Air Vice-Marshall Asim Suleiman told Dawn that the SIB had been made independent and it was no longer under the CAA. He claimed that changes had been made in the law for making it an independent body.

However, an expert closely following these developments told Dawn that the bill had yet not been passed by Parliament. He said that the Civil Aviation Rules of 1994 had not been amended to make the Safety and Investigation Board independent of the Civil Aviation Authority.

A bench of the Peshawar High Court, headed by then chief justice Dost Muhammad Khan (now a Supreme Court judge), had in Nov 2012 issued a notice to the CAA for explaining the ICAO’s recommendation for declaring the SIB fully autonomous.

In the notice the bench asked the authorities concerned to explain why the SIB should not be made fully autonomous. In Jan 2013, the court had again directed the defence ministry to expedite legislation for making the SIB an autonomous body.

The government gave an assurance to the court that it had begun implementing the recommendations of the ICAO and had sent a summary to the prime minister. The summary recommended the conversion of the SIB into an “accident investigation commission” (AIC) in line with the ICAO guidelines.

It added that making of the AIC would involve a number of changes not only in the Civil Aviation Rules 1994 but also require the establishment of a new organisational set-up.

The issue lingers on as legislation for setting up the AIC in order to replace the SIB has not been carried out so far.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2016