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Airport safety

October 11, 2018

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IT can only be considered a mercy. On Tuesday, a passenger boarding bridge, also known as an airbridge, at the Islamabad International Airport collapsed just moments after it was disconnected from a Gulf Airlines flight. An employee of the Civil Aviation Authority, which handles the facility’s operations, and a worker were injured in the accident, though not seriously. CAA engineers who visited the site to determine what went wrong and compile a preliminary report found that the bridge operator had been retracting the pathway when it collapsed, even as the aircraft had been cleared to taxi. Preliminary findings show that the reason for the collapse might have been loose or wobbling parts in the structure of the walkway that could perhaps have affected its balance.

To millions of passengers, this will come as frightening news — it does not bear thinking of the tragedy that could have occurred had the accident happened when the plane was being boarded. The incident takes on greater significance given that the IIA was inaugurated barely six months ago, and was sold to the public as a state-of-the-art facility that would be well worth the billions that were spent on it from the national exchequer. Yet the new Islamabad airport begs questions about its design, purpose and functionality, especially in light of the construction cost. For months, not just travellers but even airport staff have had to contend with serious inconveniences such as non-functional rest facilities, half-finished features that include ceilings, wiring etc. Now, with Tuesday’s accident, the issue of basic safety and the stability of airport structure has been raised. The CAA director-general has constituted a four-member board of inquiry to further investigate the collapse of the airbridge. This would be taken as an encouraging sign — except for the fate of most such inquiries in the country. Much more stringent action is needed, and urgently. To avert a potential tragedy, the CAA cannot dismiss the matter and must ensure full attention is given to all aspects of safety.

Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2018