AN aviator would always say that the key to safe landing is a stabilised approach. That means the aircraft coming in for landing is fully configured (landing gears down and flaps extended), at proper approach speed and at correct altitude according to distance from runway.
If any of these requirements are not fulfilled and chain of errors is not broken, then there are chances that the aircraft will not land within safe parameters resulting in hard/late touchdown or going off the runway beside crew missing important checklist.
According to the recorded radio calls the air traffic controller advised the captain of the ill-fated flight PK-8303 that he was high and needed some more distance to get on correct profile. But the pilot repeatedly replied that they were ‘comfortable’ and properly ‘established’.
This was the third case in the recent past that a PIA plane ended up high on profile during the approach; the other cases being in Panjgur in November 2018 where aircraft owing to long landing skidded off the runway and the one in Gilgit in July 2019 where ATR-42 after landing halfway down the runway went off and this resulted in write-off of the airplane.
PIA was once one of the best airlines in the world and it is on recorded history that PIA helped to establish some Gulf airlines during their inception. These airlines after their birth developed into mega airlines and conquered the aviation world in a short span of time. These airlines of our region are performing perfectly well with almost 100 per cent safe flight and ground operations.
The major contributing factors to their successful and safe operations are their ever vigilant flight safety departments and emphasis on crew resource management (CRM). They have absolutely zero tolerance policy towards any violation of standard operating procedures and unsafe flying practices.
The flight safety department of all airlines, including ours, have the capability and systems to monitor the entire flight profile that includes all phases like startup of engines, taxi out, takeoff, climb, cruise, descend, approach, landing, taxi in, parking and switch off. The flight data monitoring system records every flight parameters, including airspeed, altitude, heading, etc., beside recording movement of control stick or yoke, engine controls, operation of any switches.
This digital flight data can be replayed, evaluated and analysed for any variations/violations from the predefined SOPs.
Why, despite the strict procedures in place, despite having flight safety, standardisation and CRM departments established is it happening in Pakistan? Why are our national and private air carriers frequently suffering from these major accidents and loss of lives? There have to be drifts somewhere in the process of checking, awarding clearances, standardisation, monitoring and performance evaluations.
Stringent measures like vigilance, monitoring and fair accountability will certainly ensure the safety of both flight and ground operations and guarantee high standards of performance, CRM and, most importantly, cockpit discipline.
Air Cdre (r) M. Khalid Kamal
THE crash of PIA flight PK-8303 in Karachi brings to one’s mind a similar incident way back in January 2008 when British Airways Boeing 777-200 on flight from Beijing went down just short of runway of the busy Heathrow airport.
The aircraft was just minutes away from landing after 11 hours journey when both the engines flamed out. But the pilot showing great presence of mind fully extended the wing flaps that enabled the plane to glide safely over a major roadway without crashing into the busy route.
Although the plane was completely written off after landing some 800 feet short of the runway, there were no fatalities among 152 passengers on board. Some 47 sustained injuries and only one seriously.
In PIA’s case one could only conjecture that pilot Sajjad Gul was perhaps attempting to bring down his distressed Airbus in a similar way on his third attempt but with engines on fire and Model Colony obstructing his approach, the plane was doomed.
It may be noted that no high-rise buildings or multi-storied houses lay on the final approach of the Heathrow. The investigators in finalising their crash report must also take note of the mushroom growth of housing colonies around the Jinnah International Airport among the other reasons.
Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2020