ISLAMABAD - Minister for Civil Aviation Ghulam Sarwar disclosed in the National Assembly session yesterday that the PIA plane crash was the result of ‘human error’ by the pilot and air traffic control.

Presenting the preliminary report of the PIA plane crash to the house, the minister gave reference to the voice record box of the ill-fated Airbus A320 and said that the pilots, at the time of landing, were busy in conversation about Covid-19 pandemic and ‘over-confident’ to safely manage the landing.

The plane crash had resulted in the deaths of 97 out of 99 persons on board the flight. One girl on the ground also died after suffering burn injuries while two passengers miraculously survived the crash.

“The voice box reveals the pilots in the cockpit were discussing coronavirus. The pliot and co-pilot were overconfident to manage safe landing, when the control tower drew their attention,” said the minister quoting the report.

He shared this preliminary report of the plane crash on the demand of opposition parties. Earlier, the minister had shared the report with Prime Minister Imran Khan the other day.

Bilawal rejects plane crash report, seeks minister’s sacking

The minister said that the Airbus A320 was perfectly fit to fly and both the pilots were also good in their health but discussing impacts of COVID-19 at the time of landing, which was against the set protocols. “Plane was fit to fly, and there was no technical fault in it as per the record,” he said, mentioning that a complete report would be shared after a year. 

Sharing the details, he said the pilot initially failed to apply the landing gear correctly, which caused the aircraft scraping the runway before taking off again. The minister further said that the air traffic controllers had also failed to inform the pilot that the engines had been left badly damaged.

“Air traffic controller should have informed about the engine situation. The control tower did not inform the pilot, which was at fault too. When the plane took off again, both the engines were damaged,” he said.

About the finding of the report, the minister said that the data from the Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) was decoded in the presence of foreign experts.

“Both the pilots on the final approach did not identify any technical fault. At a distance of 10 miles from the runway, the plane should have been at an altitude of 2,500 feet but it was around 7,220 feet. This was the first irregularity,” said the minister sharing the details.

About the voice box recording, he said that the ATC told the pilot thrice that the plane was too high to land. Another important factor was that the pilot closed the landing gears at a distance of five nautical miles from the runway even though they were open before, he informed.

Sharing the technicalities, he said the plane was on auto-landing but the pilot converted it into manual landing before the crash. It should have come in at 40 degrees but it dived at 60 degrees, he said, sharing the opinion of experts.

About the plane accidents in the last around one decade, he mentioned the Air Blue crash in 2010, Bojha Airlines crash in 2012, plane crash in Chitral in 2016 and the crash landing of a plane in Gilgit in 2019. He said that the Air Blue and Bojha Airlines crash occurred due to “human error and various breaches of flying discipline”.

About the Chitral incident, he said the technical fault in the Chitral incident was complicated. Even the plane manufacturer itself has not been able to reach a conclusion, he said.

The aviation minister also talked about fake licence holder pilots. He said there were 860 active pilots in the country and out of these 262 pilots did not even take their exams themselves. He said that fake degrees and licenses were issued. “Almost 40 percent of pilots have fake licenses,” he said, adding that they did not have flying experience either.

The PTI’s government had started taking action against all such pilots, the minister said.

“In the first phase, 54 such pilots were identified. Show cause notices were issued to 24 and nine others confessed that they were unqualified, he said and rushed to remark, “I believe this issue should not be politicised. It is a matter of national security.

The minister also assured the members that this government would not privatise the Pakistan International Airlines.

 

Later, at a press conference here, Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan said both the pilots ignored the instructions regarding high altitude of the plane while the Air Traffic Control did not inform the pilot about the engines that got damaged after the first landing attempt.

On one hand, the minister blamed the Captain and the ATC for the plane crash and on the other he questioned what he termed political appointments in PIA over the years which he believed ruined once amongst the leading airlines in the world. 

He said the inquiry has been carried out in a most fair, free and transparent manner.

He said the law will take its course against the responsible still alive. He, however, said that the punitive action should not be taken as political victimization as he also blamed the past governments for bringing the airline on the verge of disaster. “I hope this issue would not be politicised. It is a matter of national security,” he remarked.

He said political appointments were made over the years and at one stage, office-bearers of the PIA Union used to assign flights to the pilots.

Pakistan Peoples’ Party Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, on Wednesday, rejected the government’s report regarding the recent plane crash in Karachi that killed dozens of people.

In a tweet, Bilawal demanded an independent inquiry into the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and the plane crash.

 “Prime Minister Imran Khan used to say that the Railway Minister should be sacked if there’s train crash and if there’s a plane crash Aviation Minister should be sacked,” he said.

Bilawal said the Prime Minister now blames the pilot and air traffic controller for the plane crash.

Bilawal went on to say that the process of making scapegoats by blaming the victims of the accident should be stopped. “We want an independent investigation into the PIA plane crash. The minister must go,” he added.

Earlier in the day, Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan said that the pilots of a PIA airliner that crashed last month, killing 97, were distracted and preoccupied as he talked about the coronavirus pandemic while preparing for an initial failed landing bid.

The Airbus A320 of the national carrier crashed on May 22 in the southern city of Karachi, killing all but two of those aboard, as it came down a kilometre (0.6 mile) short of the runway on its second attempt.

The aircraft had landed on its engines on the first attempt, before taking off again, the minister, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, told parliament as he presented an initial report on the disaster.

The flight data recorder showed the landing gear was lowered at 10 nautical miles, Khan said, but then raised again 5 nautical miles from the runway, which he described as “beyond comprehension”.

The aircraft was “100 percent fit to fly” and there was no technical fault, he said, but added that the pilots were not “focused” because of the pandemic.

“The discussion throughout was about coronavirus,” Khan said, referring to exchanges between the pilot and co-pilot, he said, he had listened to on the cockpit voice recorder.

Separately, Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, the spokesperson to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that the federal government was facing a rebellion from inside, which indicated that the government was about to fall.

In a statement Senator Khokhar said that the people who were forced into the Pakistan Tehran-e-Insaf were preparing to go to another destination. No one wanted to take the blame of failure of Imran Khan and they did not want to take the responsibility for the inefficiency and incapability of the Prime Minister, he said.

Senator Khokhar said that the people “who had brought Imran Khan to power are also repentant as the government members are themselves admitting that they cannot face the people.”

Meanwhile PPP leader Nafisa Shah also demanded an independent inquiry into the plane crash. She rejected the government’s report about the incident.