Pak govt seeks explanation from aviation body on letter about PIA pilot’s conduct prior to crash

Sajjad Hussain

Islamabad, Jun 5 (PTI) A peeved Pakistan government has sought an explanation from the country's aviation authority about its letter suggesting that the pilot of the PIA plane which crashed last month in Karachi did not follow the instructions of the air traffic controller for landing, saying such information should be first provided to the inquiry board.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said in a letter on June 2 to the cash-strapped Pakistan International Airlines that the pilot of the crashed aircraft did not follow the instructions of the air traffic controller (ATC).

The letter, which was published in Pakistani media, has irked the government which said that such information should be provided to the inquiry board already set up to probe the May 22 crash which killed 97 people, including three children, and two passengers miraculously survived, Dawn newspaper reported.

Flight PK-8303 from Lahore crashed at the Jinnah Garden area near Model Colony in Malir, minutes before its landing in Karachi's Jinnah International Airport. Eleven people on the ground were injured. A 13-year-old girl died this week, taking the death toll in the accident to 98.

Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan told the media in Lahore on Thursday that the government took exception to the letter, the report said.

“We have sought an explanation from the CAA official (for letter). As long as the inquiry report is not finalised, the official in question should not have spoken up (publicly). Whatever the official/CAA had to say should have been told to the four-member inquiry board probing the crash,” he said.

The letter sent by CAA official Iftikhar Ahmed to the PIA’s safety and quality assurance department, while pointing out “non-compliance of ATC instructions” by the pilot of the Airbus A-320 aircraft, had asked it to ensure that such a situation was not repeated in future.

The minister said that only three bodies of the plane’s 97 passengers had yet to be identified for different reasons, like DNA not being matched.

The minister said the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder were with the French team that visited Pakistan and data from the two recorders had successfully been downloaded. The government would make the preliminary report about the crash public on June 22.

“The plane crash will also be discussed in the forthcoming session of the National Assembly and we assure everyone that the probe will be fair and transparent,” he said, dismissing criticism of members of the inquiry board.

The release of the preliminary probe report on the Karachi incident would be followed by release of reports on the Chitral crash, Gilgit crash-landing, and crashes of the planes of Air Blue and Bhoja Air in Islamabad, he added.

Turning to the financial health of PIA, Sarwar Khan said: “The PIA planned to take its fleet from the existing 31 to 45 aircraft by 2023. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, the aviation industry has suffered a lot and the national flag carrier has been under a debt of Rs 482 billion.” PTI SH AMS AKJ AMS