LAHORE -  The PIA management’s decision to resume operation of the two grounded A-310 aircraft for Umrah pilgrims raises many questions about commitment to passengers’ safety irrespective of commercial considerations.

An aviation analyst stated that question arises why the A310 aircraft were grounded if they were now being declared serviceable. Either the decision to ground them was wrong or to restore them. Was it a deliberate grounding to justify leasing of A330 or A320 at the rates far more than the market rate and almost double or 80% more than cost of leasing by other private Pakistani registered airlines? It was the PIAC Board of Directors, headed by the present aviation secretary, comprising the CAA DG and others, which authorised CEO Hildrenbrand to sell Airbus A-310 registration AP-BEQ with six engines and four auxiliary power units at a throwaway cost far less than the book scrap value.

According to insider information and reliable sources, investigations have revealed that PIA CEO Bernd Hildenbrand, Director Procurement Air Commodore Imran Akhtar, Technical Consultant Bachhofner, Director Corporate Planning Amir and former Director Flight Operation (DFO) Q Baluch were all on board. The technical consultant who was a German has been relieved and allowed to depart, the director procurement has been sent back to his parent organisation and the corporate planning director has been transferred as head of PIA engineering while DFO has retired and is going to join his family already living in New York.

Key question arises whether grounded A310 aircraft which will be restored after heavy maintenance cost are safe to carry pilgrims who pay to travel safely. Would it not be fair that in order to restore passengers’ confidence, these A310 are used for VIP flights? The PIA management and the federal government must investigate who hired CEO Hildenbrand, because he had assumed charge much before Chairman Azam Saigol’s brief stay.

The recent statement by the new PM adviser on aviation asking CAA to go for more commercial ventures has raised more concerns and doubts. CAA as the regulatory aviation authority should remain aloof from commercial ventures. As it is, CAA is one of the most lucrative revenue generating state-owned corporations. Till to date not a single aircraft accident report has been found worthy of being made public and circulated through ICAO for the benefit of other airline operators and also to learn lesson from any human mistake, training deficiencies or errors by air traffic controllers and navigation facilities installed at airports or along the routes such as radars, instrument landing facilities etc.

Airblue flight 202 was operated by A320 which crashed in Chaklala Hills on July 28, 2010, killing all 152 souls on board. Following this accident, the airline grounded all pilots beyond 60 and 62 years of age, but as usual vested interests prevailed. The management pilots eager to prolong their earning tenure by seeking contracts prevailed and now the age of retirement has been extended to 65 years, without any thorough medical screening or psychiatric evaluation and without tests to detect inset of dementia and loss of memory that are related to age. The national age of retirement varies from country to country depending on their quality of nutrition, 24/7 medical surveillance, pollution-free environment and security of life etc. There is no country, including USA, Europe and Australia, under ICAO jurisdiction which allows utilisation of pilots beyond their national age of retirement.

When contacted, spokesman for PIA, Danyal Gillani, said, “To meet the increased demand during Hajj 2017, PIA is considering various options, including the repair of grounded A-310 aircraft.” He said no decision has so far been taken by the management in this regard. The airline management would also consult Airbus, the manufacturer of these aircraft before taking any decision, he concluded.