Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan has formally presented an initial, interim inquiry report in the National Assembly on the May 22 PIA’s plane crash. This ill-fated flight PK-8303 crashed in Karachi last month, killing 97 people, including 8 crew members. The inquiry report primarily sees “human error” behind this deadly aviation disaster. It maintains that there was considerable negligence on the part of deceased pilots and Air Traffic Control (ATC) officials who blatantly ignored “standard protocols”. It has also attributed this crash, inter alia, to pilots’ “overconfidence and lack of focus”. The minister also made some startling revelations about the “fake degrees” and “fake licenses” held by the country’s commercial pilots.

The initial inquiry report, in fact, has somehow substantiated the provisional analyses made by certain aviation experts on the basis of available information soon after this unfortunate accident last month. Holding deceased pilots primarily responsible for this disaster, most of such experts made almost similar conclusions. Obviously, there have been a number of acts of commission and omission that eventually led to this fatal disaster. To begin with, the pilots of the plane were believed not to be fully focused since they remained busy in discussing the coronavirus pandemic throughout the flight. Secondly, these pilots tried to land with an unstabilised approach. They not only erred in maintaining such speed and height which is generally advised for a safe landing but also ignored the repeated warnings issued by the ATC about the plane’s excessive height. They also chose to ignore the ATC’s advice regarding making a “go-around” before landing. Making things worse, they unnecessarily switched from auto-landing to manual, undermining the plane’s inbuilt safety mechanism.

The landing gears of the ill-destined plane remained a mystery throughout its landing fiasco. Inexplicably, the plane’s landing gears were not open when it made its first landing attempt while the same were in an extended position when it crashed. It also appears to be another fault on pilot’s part since there has been no evidence of the malfunction of the plane’s landing gear system. Also, the decoding of the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) has indicated that the aircraft’s system had made several warnings and alerts regarding its overspeed, ground proximity and landing gears which were wholly disregarded by the cabin crew. There is evidence that both engines of this plan just “scrubbed” the runway when it made its first attempt to land, with its landing gears retracted, making it lose both engines one by one. Unluckily, neither the pilots instantly realised this fact nor the ATC noticed it and communicated the same to the pilots to avoid this disaster.

We have seen the relatives of the plane’s victims helplessly wandering around to find a clue about their loved ones aboard. They faced immense hardships in receiving and identifying the remains of their kith and kin. The government must have extended extraordinary cooperation and kindness to them since this disaster was the direct outcome of some sort of incompetence and negligence exhibited by one of its own agencies. Moreover, we also hardly observed any sincere and serious effort made by the Sindh government to rescue the plane’s victims following this crash. There were mostly workers from some charitable NGOs on the site that were rescuing and providing ambulance services.

The aviation minister has admitted that almost 40 percent of pilots serving in the country’s various commercial airlines have fake licenses. There have also been similar reports about a large number of pilots with fake degrees. However, despite the fact the apex court had taken up this case, and issued strict instructions to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to this effect, the civil aviation regulator didn’t bother to seriously proceed against such pilots. Surely, this matter must have been taken seriously by the government since it would not only badly tarnish Pakistan’s image internationally but also damage our troubled domestic aviation industry beyond repair.

The flight safety has always been paramount to the best airlines around the world. Most of such airlines have readily adopted state-of-the-art flight safety standards. Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) is one such system whereby the operational efficiency and flight safety are ensured by capturing and analysing the flight data of an airplane while it moves from one point to another. Through this system, any violation or deviation from any standard aviation protocol, can easily be detected and ratified. It is quite ironic that flight data in our country is monitored only in the event of an aircraft crash after securing a black box from the wreckage to inform the people about the “human error” responsible for such a crash.

The deceased pilots and ATC officials may be primarily responsible for PK-8303 crash. However, they should not be solely blamed for this disaster. I believe it was more of an institutional failure on the part of both the CAA and the PIA, which miserably failed in effectively ingraining a culture of accountability in the airline. Accountability generally signifies a particular characteristic of an individual or institution whereby they are held responsible and answerable for the performance of a particular function or task. ‘Operant Conditioning’ is one of the fundamental concepts in behavioural psychology. Significantly influenced by the well-known ‘law of effect’, this thesis establishes a causal relationship between any behaviour and its consequence. It maintains that the consequences of a particular behaviour determine whether such behaviour is likely to be repeated or not in future. Thus, rewards and punishments play a fundamental role in modifying human behaviour. Had the CAA or PIA evolved such a system of rewards and punishments, the deceased pilots and ATC officials may have not flouted the aviation safety protocols which eventually led to this deadly plane crash.

There should also be an across the board “purge” in the PIA to rid our national airline of all those who are responsible for damaging it. The airline’s senior managers must also be removed for failing to avert PK-8303 crash besides their poor handling of the post-crash situation. PIA is like a patient who is clinically dead but still manages to survive through artificial respiration provided in the form of the government’s extensive bailout packages. PIA is now essentially a public limited company. If PIA fails to become a viable and profitable company, it may be wound up like any inefficient public company under the Companies Act, 2017. The county’s poor taxpayers should no longer be made to bear such a cumbersome burden.