Around two years ago, when I was in the last semester of my undergraduate degree, I started working on my final research project. The topic of my research was innovative but challenging: “Air Crash News Reporting in Pakistan”.
I submitted a proposal to my advisor but, unfortunately, it was rejected and I was told to work again on this topic and come back with an improved version. I went back and came up with a new proposal – which, too, was rejected. I wanted to complete my degree within time so I changed the whole topic and submitted an entirely new final year research.
I started my post graduate degree at NUST Islamabad and was asked about the plans for my thesis. I told the panelist the same old topic, which was rejected by my previous university. But this time around, it was accepted.
I sometimes thought of what went lacking when I submitted my proposal for my undergraduate degree. I concluded that even though the topic was new and probably never researched in Pakistan, I was still underprepared and did not have enough material to get a green signal from my advisor.
However, in my postgraduate degree, I selected my cases carefully. Three cases – PIA Fokker Crash Multan, Air Blue Crash Margalla Hills, Bhoja Air Islamabad) – were selected. I studied the news reporting of the first seven days of all three cases from three major English newspapers of Pakistan (Dawn, The News, The Nation) which meant I studied news coverage, a total of 21 days from each single case. After all the data collection, it concluded that newspapers hardly report anything after the fourth or the fifth day of the accident and their reports lack the technical or scientific data, therefore complete facts are not presented.
During the last whole week, PIA and the Pilots Association (PALPA) were in the news because it was reported by the national press that pilots are on a strike which is causing serious problems in the flight schedule. They reported that many flights are being delayed or even been cancelled, and that the post-Haj operation is also being affected. It has also been reported that pilots earn a salary between nine to fifteen lacs.
Yes, pilots were observing a protest but on the condition that they will operate “by the book”. The term “by the book” means that pilots will only operate a flight after their mandatory rest period is completed. According to the rules, if, for example, a pilot has operated a ten-hour long flight, then he has the right to take a twenty-hour rest. In case of any need, the airline can only request the crew to operate an extra flight, but that, too, can only be made after the pilot has rested for atleast twelve hour after the ten hours long flight, and the pilot has the right to reject the request.
Now for the Haj issue. Post-Haj delays are a normal phenomenon because of the heavy crowding at the immigration, flight counters and the overall heavy traffic at Jeddah airport. So blaming pilots for the Haj flights scheduling problems is not justified.
Secondly, in the entire history of PIA and PALPA, Haj operation is always considered as a noble duty so Haj operation is and never will be damaged, despite the problems within the organization, at any cost. In order to make sure that Haj operation runs smoothly, the airline at times delays flights from other sectors because pilots coming back from Haj duty go for rest and there is a shortage of crew available to operate other flights.
Now coming to the salary issue: yes, pilots do earn a handsome amount of money, but the figure of 15 lacs quoted in the press is a gross exaggeration. Even a senior captain with over thirty years of experience may earn a maximum of 12 lacs but not more than that.
The reason behind my entire research and this write up is not just to highlight mistakes committed by the media, but to expose the lack of knowledge or quality of aviation reporting in Pakistan. Wrongly presented facts and figures and misinterpretation of scientific or engineering data leads to portraying a bad image of not only the airline or the pilots’ community, but of the entire country. Even in this era when sources of information like the internet and official reports are easily accessible for the press, a person with links to the aviation community can easily spot mistakes in their reporting.
The best solution of this whole problem is to learn. Journalists are human beings too who can make mistakes.Therefore it is the duty of CAA, PIA and other aviation bodies to regularly conduct training sessionsfor the journalists so that basic and major mistakes can be avoided in future.