In the expected barrage of criticism that has followed the deadly crash of flight ATR 42-500, Chairman Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), Muhammad Azam Saigol, has come out in the defence of the national carrier. According to him, there was no technical fault in the plane, it had been routinely checked before take-off, and the ATR plane was manufactured and purchased recently in 2007. He went on to say – perhaps a little insensitively – that air travel remains the safest compared to other modes of transportation. Considering there are 48 dead passengers on his airline, this is the last thing he should be saying. More importantly, this metric does not reflect the full picture – air travel is the safest mode of transportation, but PIA remains the most unsafe airline currently operational. The stats back up this fact.

A comparative study of airline safety – conducted by renowned data scientist Nate Silver, who manages data-based news service ““ – revealed that PIA has consistently underperformed on airline safety, and it is one of the world’s most disaster-prone airlines. Not only does it under perform, it does so by a margin, and the only airline to join it in this shameful distinction is the Ethiopian Airlines, both of whom “have had a persistently high rate of incidents”.

According to Flight Global, the ATR crash is the tenth full hull loss since 2000, and while the only other time such a crash led to fatalities was a Fokker crash on July 10 2006, the other crashes could have resulted in death.

While such studies proof of the airline’s incompetence, it can be gleaned locally too from the tales of mismanagement and negligence.

The very same plane that crashed near Havlian had crash landed in Lahore airport in 2009, and had a catastrophic engine failure mid-flight on September 2014 – in the very same engine that reportedly failed – yet the plane was not retired.

Furthermore, just one day before the crash, the Senate Special Committee on PIA was furious that top PIA executives did not show up for the meeting – in what has become a recurring incident apparently. The airline is behind on payments to Pakistan State Oil (PSO) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) once again, and it is now revealed that recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to make the CAA Safety and Investigation Board (SIB) an independent and autonomous body have not been implemented either – despite being ordered by the court since 2013.

These problems keep piling up, and no amount of well-intentioned, but insufficient, new introductions such as the luxury ‘Premier Service’ can sugar-coat the truth. PIA, and to an extent the CAA are failing institutes. If there is not a major, and drastic overhaul, we can only fear worse.