Crashed plane’s pilot didn’t follow ATC instructions: CAA

Updated Jun 04 2020

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French air safety body says data of black box successfully downloaded. — AFP/File
French air safety body says data of black box successfully downloaded. — AFP/File

• French air safety body says data of black box successfully downloaded
• Palpa regrets release of limited details about crash, says it is tantamount to influencing ongoing probe

KARACHI/RAWALPINDI: While the French air safety organisation announced on Wednes­day that the data of the ill-fated PK-8303 black box was successfully downloaded and being analysed, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said in a letter to the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) that the pilot of the crashed aircraft did not follow the instructions of the air-traffic controller (ATC).

On May 22, a PIA A320 plane, from Lahore to Karachi, crashed in a densely populated area near Karachi airport, killing 97 of the 99 passengers and crewmembers on board. A teenage girl on ground also died later.

The Sindh health department said in a tweet on Wednesday that 91 of the 97 bodies of plane crash victims had been identified and handed over to their families.

The June 2 letter from CAA official Iftikhar Ahmed to the PIA safety and quality assurance department, while pointing out “non-compliance of ATC instructions” by PK-8303, asked him to “ensure avoidance of recurrence of such situation in the interest of flight safety”.

A PIA spokesperson told Dawn that the national flag carrier would respond as per regulations.

Taking strong exception, the Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (Palpa) said on Wednesday that release of limited details about the crash was tantamount to influencing the ongoing investigation.

The CAA letter said the duty approach controller had raised a non-compliance report in respect of the pilot of PK-8303. It claimed that the pilot was warned twice about his speed and high altitude for approach but he did not follow.

It said that PK-8303 was cleared to an altitude of 3,000 feet while entering the control zone that is 25 nautical miles (NM), but the aircraft was spotted at a high altitude of over 5,000 feet over Makli.

“The same was communicated to the pilot who reported comfortable for descent. Later, at 10NM pilot was again cautioned by offering an orbit to adjust his high altitude for approach, which he did not accept,” it added.

Quoting the approach controller, the letter read: “When aircraft was 7NM final from touchdown RWY [runway] 25L passing 5,200 feet, it was relatively high as per the standard approach profile. I instructed pilot twice to discontinue approach and turn left heading 180 [degree] which he did not comply and continued to proceed towards RWY 25L with his own discretion to establish ILS approach. I again warned aircraft at 05NM from touchdown which was passing 3,500 feet. At 04NM aircraft was observed approaching 1,300 feet with ground speed of 250 knots. Aircraft was observed passing runway threshold at ground speed of 210 knots.”

The CAA said the plane lifted up from the runway and crashed over Model Colony while attempting a second approach for runway 25-L.

Approach tower deals with the aircraft from the start of descend till it is five nautical miles and then hands over to local tower (Karachi tower in this case) after the final landing approach has been established. The local tower visually looks at the aircraft for landing gears, etc, and directs the landing. Once on the ground, the pilot is handed over to ground control, which then guides the pilot to parking.

A question, however, arises as to why the approach tower did not transfer the aircraft to Karachi tower, which could have physically seen if the landing gears were down or not when the pilot came in for first landing.

Data of FDR, CVR being analysed in France

The French Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) said in a tweet on Wednesday that the data of flight data recorder (FDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR) — the two components of a plane’s black box — was successfully downloaded by the BEA.

“Analysis of data in progress and will continue this week,” the BEA tweet said. It mentioned that it was doing so at the request of the Aircraft Accident and Investigation Board (AAIB) and any further communication in this regard would be made after “mutual concurrence”.

On Tuesday, the French air safety organisation said technical work was started in its lab in the presence of the AAIB president.

The BEA was part of an 11-member team of experts, sent by plane manufacturer Airbus, which came to Pakistan on May 26 and stayed here for a week and took part in the air crash probe. They left Karachi for Paris on Monday along with the FDR and CVR.

While the AAIB remained silent, the BEA tweet indicated that the Pakistani investigator who left for France along with French experts was Air Commodore Usman Ghani, the president of the AAIB.

Technical teams are consulting on retrieving an engine and the landing gear of PK-8303, which are still under the rubble at the roof of a multi-storey house in Model Colony.

A spokesman for Palpa on Wednesday asked the prime minister to ensure transparent and impartial investigations into the PIA plane crash. He said that releasing letters, reports, audios and videos from the organisations concerned was tantamount to influencing the ongoing investigation. “Only limited information pertains to pilot’s action are being released with ill intentions,” he said.

Palpa said the instructions of air-traffic controllers to the pilot of the ill-fated aircraft as well as the procedure adopted by the control tower in the second landing attempt also left a question mark. “Ill-planning, action taken against Palpa and other employees and officers of the association, and long flight duty hours affect the performance of pilots,” the spokesperson said.

Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar had promised that the government would present the preliminary report on the plane crash in parliament on June 22.

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2020