Senator wants probe into plane controversy

Published November 29, 2021
A photo of PML-N Senator Afnanullah Khan. — Photo courtesy Senate website
A photo of PML-N Senator Afnanullah Khan. — Photo courtesy Senate website

ISLAMABAD: The controversy over the grounding of a Boeing aircraft by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) after it was damaged during an anti-hijacking drill by the law enforcement agencies is likely to face a parliamentary scrutiny, as an opposition senator belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on Sunday declared he would raise the matter before the parliamentary committee concerned.

Talking to Dawn, PML-N Senator Afnanullah Khan said he had already asked Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Aviation Hidayatullah to take up the matter for investigation and he would formally write a letter to him in this regard.

Senator Khan said he would explain through the letter the issue to the committee chairman, requesting him to summon the high-ups of PIA and the Airport Security Force (ASF). He said the opposition members in the committee would also request for a subcommittee to hold a thorough investigation.

The PML-N senator said PIA’s Boeing 777-200 LR with registration number AP-BGL had been parked at a storage facility in Karachi for almost two years. The aircraft that cost over $300 million to the national exchequer had not been able to fly due to the damage caused during the drill by the law enforcement agencies when an ASF truck had hit it with full force, he added.

Mr Khan said the PIA management had initially denied any “wrongdoing” but later confirmed the drill and that the plane had been damaged.

Last month, a recently retired PIA pilot, Mumtaz Hussain, had filed a petition in the Lahore High Court on the matter. On October 25, Justice Tariq Nadeem directed the deputy attorney general “to procure a reply and para-wise comments from the PIA chief executive officer”.

The next date of case hearing is November 30 (tomorrow).

In his petition filed under Article 199 of the Constitution, the pilot urged the court to pass an “appropriate direction” for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to allow inspection of the aircraft and provide information about its airworthiness.

The petitioner also sought “to initiate criminal proceedings against those who are responsible for the damage of the PIA aircraft Boeing 777-200 registration number AP-BGL”.

He claimed that the CAA had grounded the aircraft due to lack of airworthiness and the aircraft was parked at Jinnah Terminal, thus causing “millions of rupees loss to the airline and national treasure”.

Mr Hussain also attached a complete list of technical defects in the aircraft as “reflected by the engineering department”. According to the petition, the aircraft had not flown since March 2020 “whereas in February, it took 69 flights”.

The 329-seater plane had made the first flight in March 2004.

Talking to Dawn, counsel for the petitioner Nabeel Javed Kahloon said they would submit another application to the court on Monday (today) requesting it to constitute a high-level commission of technical experts, well experienced and trained on Boeing 777 aircraft, to inspect the aircraft and submit a complete investigation report on the “structural damages” along with facts of the incident before the court.

Through the supplementary application, Mr Kahloon said, they would also urge the court to direct the CAA to take the aircraft’s custody from PIA under Section 272 of the Civil Aviation Rules 1994 so that no one could tamper with the evidence.

PIA spokesman

A PIA spokesman, however, declared that there was no truth in the reports that the aircraft had been rendered useless.

In a statement, he admitted that the aircraft was “partially damaged” during an anti-hijacking drill, but claimed that the damage had been repaired.

“The plane is parked at the long storage,” he said.

“The aircraft is parked at the long storage as the use of Boeing 777 had been decreased due to travelling curbs in the wake of Covid-19,” the spokesman added.

He said the plane would be made operational when travel restrictions would be lifted. He said the use of Boeing aircraft would increase after the decision of Saudi Arabia to allow direct flights from Pakistan. He added that the aircraft would be made operational as soon as the flights on long routes resumed.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2021

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