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Airblue report

December 23, 2011

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THE inquiry report into last year’s Airblue Flight 202 crash has determined that inclement weather and pilot error were the primary causes behind the tragedy. All 152 passengers and crew perished in the incident as the ill-fated airliner flying from Karachi to Islamabad crashed into the Margallas. The tragedy was described as Pakistan’s worst air disaster. The report, conducted by the Civil Aviation Authority and submitted to the Peshawar High Court, has ruled out sabotage, failed systems or other causes for the crash of the Airbus A321. Instead, it states that the “aircrew failed to display superior judgment and professional skills”. What is perhaps more disturbing is the atmosphere that seemed to prevail in the cockpit before the crash, which the report describes as “tense”. It says the captain’s tone towards the first officer was “harsh” which created a “communication barrier” between the two pilots. The report notes the captain continued to berate the junior pilot for about an hour after take-off. It adds that the aircrew ignored repeated warnings from air traffic control to pull up and that “in their pursuit to land in inclement weather [the crew] committed serious violations of procedures and breaches of flying discipline, which put the aircraft in an unsafe condition”.

There are lessons that can be derived from the incident. The focus must now be on ensuring that standard operating procedures are not violated in the cockpit. As this tragedy has painfully illustrated, breach of discipline or unprofessional conduct in the cockpit can have disastrous consequences. The CAA should require all airlines operating in the country to sensitise aircrews in this regard. The Airblue tragedy and several comparatively minor incidents since the crash also serve as reminders for the aviation regulator to maintain continuous vigilance where air-safety protocols are concerned. There is also a need for the government as well as the airline in question to speed up the process of compensation. Even though it has been nearly a year and a half since the incident, a significant number of families have yet to be compensated. Assistance to the heirs in getting succession certificates from the court should help speed up the process.