ISLAMABAD - Another air marshal has been assigned to run the affairs of Pakistan’s state-owned aviation regulator, slightly over a month after the Supreme Court had declared the appointment of his predecessor as null and void.

Air Marshal (Retd) Muhammad Yousaf was appointed Director General Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on Friday with immediate effect. Corresponding to this development, the Aviation Division notified his appointment at the said slot.

This is the sixth appointment on DG CAA slot in over five years and first since the incumbent government took the remarkable decision in June this year of setting up a separate Aviation Division independent of the apparently bureaucratic and inefficient control of the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The Aviation Division comprises CAA, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), Airport Security Force (ASF) and Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD).

On September 25, the SC had declared the appointment of Air Marshal (Retd) Khalid Chaudhry as DG CAA null and void, while announcing its verdict in the New Benazir Bhutto International Airport (NBBIA) corruption case.

The court had observed that Chaudhry’s appointment was unlawful and made in a non-transparent manner. Khalid Chaudhry, who is known to be a close associate of the Secretary Defence Lieutenant General (Retd) Asif Yasin Malik, faced serious allegations of corruption in the construction of NBBIA. The construction cost of the said airport has escalated from 35 billion to 73 billion rupees in a highly dubious and suspicious manner.

The new DG CAA Mohammad Yousaf is the batch mate and a reportedly close friend of former air chief, Air Chief Marshal (Retd) Rao Qamar Suleman. Both were commissioned in the Flying Branch of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on June 1, 1975. Yousaf had remained Deputy Chief of Air Staff (Support) at the Air Headquarters in 2008.

The appointment of another former PAF official as the DG CAA has raised eyebrows within the authority’s rank and file. A top office-bearer of the Civil Aviation Authority Officers Association of Pakistan (CAAOAP), preferring to stay unnamed, expressed disappointment over this decision. “It seems the government has learnt no lessons from the past. The retired PAF bosses are habitually sent to head the CAA that has caused rapid professional deterioration of Pakistan’s commercial aviation standards,” he remarked.

The official said, when the government had decided to make the CAA independent of MoD’s control, the CAAOAP had lauded this decision. “We thought things would change for good and the blunders committed under the MoD’s rule would not be repeated again. But not much has changed. The unprofessional practices introduced by the MoD in the CAA are being followed again.

What’s the need of bringing a retired air marshal in the commercial aviation sector when we already have countless aviation experts from this sector who are totally fit for heading CAA?” 

On June 14, the CAAOAP and Joint Action Committee of Pakistan International Airlines Employees (JACPIAE) had issued a statement to welcome the Federal Government’s decision of establishing a new Aviation Division. “This step will end the political interference in the commercial aviation sector, which is necessary and need of the hour,” the statement had said.

Over last five years, as many as four officials were elevated to the DG CAA slot for six times. Of them, three were the ex-PAF officers while only one was the civilian. In September 2008, Air Commodore (r) Junaid Amin was appointed DG CAA. He was the authority’s head when the deadly Airblue crash had taken place in July 2010. In September 2010, former PIA pilot Captain (r) Nadeem Yousafzai took over as DG CAA. In February 2011, he was replaced by Air Marshal (r) Khalid Chaudhry following Yousafzai’s appointment as Managing Director PIA. In March 2012, Yousafzai was brought again to head the CAA as its DG due to the appointment of Air Chief Marshal (Retd) Rao Qamar Suleman as Chairman and MD PIA. In November 2012, Khalid Chaudhry again replaced Nadeem Yousfzai as DG CAA. Chaudhry held this slot till he was sent packing in consequence of a SC order. The position of DG CAA was lying vacant since then before the latest appointment of Air Marshal (r) Mohammad Yousaf as DG CAA   

Apart from corruption allegations, the last DG CAA Khalid Chaudhry also remained under wide criticism for his allegedly instrumental role in hushing up the inquiry reports of some major air crashes that took place in recent years, including that of last April’s Bhoja Air crash.

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has formed a committee to probe Bhoja Air crash and prepare a related report, accordingly.