ISLAMABAD - Three top defence officials would be shown the door with the upcoming reconstitution of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Board as part of the government’s policy to revamp Pakistan’s commercial aviation sector.

The 11-member CAA Board, comprising powerful individuals who have a strong say in the authority’s official and ‘unofficial’ matters, was given a partial restructuring with the recent appointment of Secretary Aviation Muhammad Ali Gardezi as Chairman CAA Board. He had replaced Secretary Defence Asif Yasin Malik who headed the Board till recently.

According to an aviation source, Air Marshal Athar Hussain Bukhari, Vice Chief of Air Staff, Major General (r) Arif Nazir Raja, Additional Secretary-I, Ministry of Defence and Shabbir Ahmad, Additional Secretary, Military Finance, are the three Board members that would be replaced with aviation professionals along with other Board members. These officials were made Board members when the CAA, along with Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and other related departments, was working under the administrative control of the MoD. However, taking stock of the challenging situation at Pakistan’s fast collapsing commercial aviation sector, the government had recently brought the CAA, PIA, Airport Security Force (ASF) and Pakistan Meteorological Department out of the MoD control by creating a separate aviation division. Unlike India, Britain and United States where Directorate General of Civil Aviation (India), Civil Aviation Authority (Britain) and Federal Aviation Administration (US) are independent and autonomous bodies, Pakistan made an exception by putting the CAA under the MoD control that paved way for the ministry’ s allegedly undue and uncalled for influence in the authority’s affairs.

Furthermore, the MoD officers up to the ranks of section officer (aviation) and joint secretary (aviation), who were dealing with Pakistan’s commercial aviation-related matters, would be repatriated to their parent departments, the aviation official shared. “They have no business at the MoD anymore. They’ll have to report to the Establishment Division,” commented the official. 

In a detailed conversation with this correspondent last week, Advisor to Prime Minister on Aviation Shujaat Azeem had confirmed that the CAA Board would be reconstituted in the coming days. “It would take a few weeks, maximum. We’ll make sure the professionals from aviation sector and relevant fields are part of the CAA Board.”

Entrusted with the major task of policy formulation, the CAA Board had become the centre-stage of controversies in the wake of its apparent yet unauthorised involvement in the authority’s day-to-day administrative matters. The Board members repeatedly faced accusations of using alleged influence to have their favourites posted at lucrative positions in violation of the prescribed official rules.

From July 2010 to July 2012, at least seven air crashes involving a Boeing 737, an Airbus A 321 and five small commercial planes had claimed 307 lives but no inquiry report into these crashes was made public, with the exception of a seemingly dubious report on Airblue crash incident which was rejected by the Peshawar High Court with the orders of reinvestigation. Under the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) rules, an inquiry report into a commercial aircraft crash is treated as a public document whose release is obligatory. Despite frequent reminders from ICAO in this regard, neither the authority acted in compliance with the ICAO rules nor did the CAA Board ever take up the matter, reportedly.

“This was a policy matter and it was very much within the mandate of CAA Board to take a policy decision on releasing the aircraft investigation reports that was never done,” the aviation source shared. Pointing to setting up a commission on Bhoja Air’s plane crash incident by the Islamabad High Court, the official said, the panel’s constitution would not have been required had the CAA completed the probe and released its report. 

In an interaction with this newspaper sometime back, the Director General CAA Air Marshal (r) Khalid Chaudhry had claimed that the pending air crash investigation reports would be released ‘soon.’ He had cited some technical complications, which, according to him, had caused delay in the inquiry reports release.

Through a seemingly controversial amendment in the CAA Ordinance 1982, grounds had been paved for the MoD and CAA Board’s unbridled interference into the authority’s administrative affairs, soon after this ordinance was promulgated. The said ordinance was introduced to make the CAA an independent and autonomous body separate of the MoD. Later, however, the top baboos at the MoD got the CAA Ordinance 1982 amended with the inclusion of Section 4 in the said ordinance, which apparently opened the ‘floodgates’ for nepotism, favouritism and corruption. This particular section allegedly allowed the MoD and CAA Board an unprecedented level of interference in the CAA administrative affairs on the pretext of dealing with ‘policy matters.’ In frequent misuse of the Section 4, even the routine transfers and postings at the CAA were carried out with the MoD and Board intervention while declaring them as policy matters.

Section 4 states, “Power of the Federal Government to issue directives. The Federal Government may, as and when it considers necessary, issue directives to the authority, and if a question arises whether any matter is a matter of policy or not, the decision of the federal government shall be final.” In the year 2010, the then DG CAA Nadeem Yousafzai had promoted eight deputy airport managers to the rank of airport manager. The MoD had nullified these promotions allegedly beyond its authority. The aggrieved officers had moved Sindh High Court and the matter is still pending. Although, Shujaat Azeem has assured that justice would be done to the officers, their grievances are yet to be looked into, purportedly.