Opposition puts no trust in air crash inquiry commission

Updated 11 Jun 2020

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Slams PIA chief for holding the pilot responsible for tragedy even before commencement of probe. — AFP/File
Slams PIA chief for holding the pilot responsible for tragedy even before commencement of probe. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The opposition in the Senate on Wednesday demanded reconstitution of the inquiry commission set up to investigate the May 22 air crash in Karachi.

They said since the commission was controversial a free and fair inquiry was not possible.

The senators slammed Chief Executive Officer of the Pakistan International Airlines Air Marshal Arshad Malik for holding the pilot of ill-fated flight responsible for the crash, even before the commencement of inquiry.

Speaking on a calling attention notice, Raza Rabbani of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) said the history of air crash inquiries in Pakistan was quite sordid. He regretted that most of the reports were not made public.

He said the inquiry commission constituted by the federal government was soaked in the conflict of interest.

Slams PIA chief for holding the pilot responsible for tragedy even before commencement of probe

Mr Rabbani pointed out that all members of the commission were from the Pak­is­tan Air Force and they were junior in rank to the CEO of the national carrier. None of them was conversant with commercial flying and its procedures, he added.

He said the commission was devoid of any rated pilot or one having flown Airbus.

The PPP leader said the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Air Traffic Con­trol will be under scrutiny while the former was represented in the commission.

He referred to a letter written by the CAA to the PIA claiming that the pilot did not follow the instructions given to him. “In other words they superseded the inquiry commission and pronounced a judgement,” he remarked.

Mr Rabbani said the appointment of the CEO was controversial from the very beginning as a tailor-made advertisement had been released to accommodate him and the required qualification included irrelevant areas like war studies and combat flying.

He criticised the PIA chief for what he called his anti-worker policies as he banned all employees associations and rescinded the agreements signed with them by the management days before the air crash.

He feared that a massive retrenchment in PIA was on the cards. He said the CEO during a meeting with the prime minister termed 14,000 employees the biggest problem for the airline.

PPP parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman questioned as to why the inquiry commission did not have a commercial pilot. “It is clear that the aircraft company, CAA and PIA all want to blame the pilot who is not even here to defend himself,” she said.

Ms Rehman said there were serious reservations about the inquiry commission. “How can the committee be under the CAA as the authority is under investigation itself? This is a total conflict of interest and the committee and the inquiry seem suspicious now,” she added.

The PPP leader said: “Pilots are being made to fly without adequate safety protocols and mandatory rest. When they protest they are given a show-cause notice. They are working in these extreme conditions to help us and yet no SOPs are being followed. Basic rights of PIA employees have been suspended by enforcing the Essential Services Act under the guise of the coronavirus pandemic. The pilots and crew members are risking their lives to operate during the Covid-19 pandemic and are at the risk of getting infected due to the negligence of PIA and CAA.”

Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq said attempts were being made to put the entire blame on the pilot. He said the man on duty at the control tower had been arrested and feared that he will be compelled to give a statement dictated to him.

Javed Abbasi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) said during the days of its glory the PIA had trained the Emirates staff. Now the PIA has 30 planes, while the Emirates has a fleet of 300 aircraft, he added.

He said according to the CEO’s briefing to the PM, the PIA was incurring a monthly loss of Rs six billion. The PML-N leader said that an impartial inquiry into the air crash by the commission with its current composition was not possible.

Khurram Dastgir of the PML-N and Nafeesa Shah of the PPP, while speaking in the National Assembly, castigated the government for constituting a one-sided commission.

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2020