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KARACHI: As many as seven passengers aboard the Pakistan International Airlines flight PK-743 (Karachi-Madina) on Jan 20 were forced to stand throughout the over three-hour flight after the airline boarded excess passengers in a serious breach of air safety regulations.

The PIA management appears to have taken this lightly as no action has been taken against those responsible for the bizarre situation.

According to sources, PIA staffers — the pilot, senior purser and traffic staffers — have been trying to shift culpability onto each other and the aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, has not taken punitive action against the airline or its staffers for putting the passengers’ lives at risk.

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Despite repeated requests, PIA Spokesperson Danyal Gilani did not offer a concrete response and said the matter was being investigated. If someone was found responsible for any wrongdoing, the PIA would take stern action against them under the company rules, he said.

The Boeing 777 aircraft (Reg No: AP BID) has a seating capacity of 409, including jump seats, while flight PK-743 carried 416 passengers from Karachi to Madina.

Sources said this constituted a serious air safety breach as in the case of an emergency, passengers without seats would not have access to oxygen and could also cause congestion in case of an emergency evacuation.

The boarding passes issued to the extra passengers were hand-written and not computer-generated, sources said. The computer-generated list, provided to the aircraft crew by the ground traffic staff, did not mention the excess passengers.

Sources said that the senior purser (air hostess), Hina Turab, maintains that she informed the captain that there was chaos in the cabin because the passengers were over and above the configuration, but the captain told her to adjust those passengers as the aircraft was on the taxi way.

Capt Anwer Adil, who operated that flight, maintains that the computer-generated sheet did not show excess passengers. He said: “After takeoff when I came out of cockpit, Ms Turab informed me that there were some extra people who [had been] boarded by the traffic staff. I also noticed some people were those who were categorically refused jump seats by me at the check in counter before the flight. I had already taken off and the senior purse did not inform me about extra passengers before closing the aircraft door. Therefore after takeoff immediate landing back at Karachi was not possible as it required lot of fuel dumping which was not in the interest of the airline.”

Protocol necessitates that in such cases, the aircraft should be brought back to the terminal and excess passengers offloaded, sources said. Only then can an aircraft resume its flight.

His statement adds: “At Madina and after landing at Karachi from the return flight, I could not highlight this fact in the captain’s de-brief.” He insists that it was responsibility of the senior purser to ensure that the number of passengers matched the trim sheet and that she should not have closed the door knowing that there were excess passengers on the plane. The traffic staff was also responsible for ensuring that the passengers had computer-generated boarding passes and that nobody should have been allowed on the aircraft with manual passes.

Sources added that the apparent reason for going ahead with the journey was to save fuel cost. The crew had conveniently not mentioned any of this in their reports at the end of the journey or after returning to Karachi.

Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2017