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Erring PIA pilot given promotion

July 23, 2012

KARACHI, July 22: Instead of taking a stringent punitive action against a pilot who had landed aircraft on a wrong airfield, the Pakistan International Airlines has promoted him from the small aircraft to a big one.

Sources told Dawn that the pilot was an office-bearer of the powerful representative body of the pilots, the Pakistan Air Lines Pilots Association.

According to the sources, the PIA also allowed the same crew who had landed the aircraft at a wrong destination —described as an error of judgment, which is considered to be a very serious mistake — to continue flying without ascertaining the exact cause of occurrence, says an investigation report to be sent to the ministry of defence in a few days.

Responding to Dawn queries, the pilot concerned, Captain Tariq Samad, a member of the PALPA executive committee, however, claimed that he had declined the promotion on “personal grounds” and had preferred to stay and continue to fly the same small aircraft.

The investigation report, conducted by the Civil Aviation Authority’s Safety Investigation Board, relating to “serious incident of landing on wrong runway by PIA ATR42-500, flight No: PK-1592, aircraft No: AP-BHJ on May 18, 2011 at Bhit” not only puts the blame on the aircraft crew and the air traffic controllers for landing on a wrong airport, but also blames the PIA management for allowing the same crew to continue flying.

The report says that on May 18, 2011 the PIA’s chartered flight PK-1592 was scheduled for Karachi-Sehwan-Islamabad. Being operated by captain Tariq Samad (total flying hours 11,681 and as captain ATR 1,750) and first officer Amir Siddiq (TFH 400 and as FO ATR 70hrs) took off from Karachi and when it reached Nawabshah, it had to turn towards Sehwan, but it wrongly turned to Bhit airfield, a private airfield maintained by an oil company, ENI Pakistan.

Although the pilot was continuously communicating with the Sehwan tower, it landed at the wrong airfield. The Sehwan tower told the pilot that it could not see the aircraft, but the pilot saying that he could see the airport landed at the wrong airstrip, the report adds.

The report in its findings says: a) the flight crew was informed at around 2000 hours to operate the flight next day and did not adequately prepare for the flight and appeared to be confused about the destination. b) There do not exist SOPs for chartered flights to private airfields in Sehwan; c) Both flight crew were not sure of their destination and also had no clue of Sehwan and its location; the captain of the flight fed the coordinates of Bhit instead of Sehwan in the aircraft’s navigation system; the first officer did not challenge the captain for feeding the wrong coordinates nor did he challenge him for flying in the wrong direction.

The report says that the air traffic controller positioned at Sehwan cleared PK-1592 for landing at Sehwan without establishing visual contact with the aircraft, which at that time was on finals at Bhit.

The report says that after the aircraft landed at the wrong destination, Bhit, the chief pilot ATR (PIA management) instructed the captain to take off again within minutes and proceed to Sehwan and further to Islamabad.

The PIA (chief pilot ATR) wrongly allowed the same crew, who were involved in the error of judgment, to continue the flight, without ascertaining the exact cause of the occurrence — landing at a wrong airport.

The Karachi tower did not check the pilot for repeatedly reading back the wrong destination, and the Karachi radar did not monitor and check the pilot for flying on the wrong track after passing over Nawabshah.

In its conclusion, the report says that the flight crew was operating the flight to Sehwan for the first time and the flight preparation was lacking and had directly contributed to the landing at the wrong airfield.

The flight crew failed to feed the correct coordinates and did not follow the SOP of flying from Nawabshah to Sehwan, ultimately resulting into landing on a wrong airfield. Flight crew training on flight preparation was weak and the radar monitoring also did not play its required role.

The report has recommended that “after a serious incident such as this one, the flight crew is not to be allowed to continue further operations by the operator (airline) unless their fitness has been determined/ verified by the CAA. The airlines should ensure that their aircraft have updated data regarding required destinations. Route familiarisation of the crew be stressed during trainings.

The reports says that air traffic controllers be trained on ensuring correct and complete read backs of the ATC clearances, correcting the flight crew for giving wrong information, and monitoring of the radar tracks of aircraft as per flight plan.

Despite repeated requests by this reporter stretched over many days, PIA spokesperson Sultan Hassan, though he promised to respond, did not give the version of the airline on the issue. Similarly, though Dawn approached CAA spokesperson Pervez George many times over the past many days, the CAA spokesperson said he would respond, but did not give any official version on the issue.