Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Images of Pakistan International Airlines sacrificing a goat went viral on Monday as the beleaguered state-run airline resumed ATR flights. All ten ATRs in its fleet were grounded last week in the aftermath of a crash near Havelian earlier this month.
PIA ground staff ritually slaughtered the black goat beside an ATR-42, the same type of aircraft lost in the disaster. The move is thought to ward off bad luck in Pakistan. The ATR-42 was the company’s first ATR back in service following the crash. PIA said on December 15 they had chartered a Lockheed C-130 Hercules from the air force to resume cancelled services.
PIA Flight 661, an ATR-42 just under ten years old, crashed into mountainous terrain in the Abbottabad region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa two weeks ago. The crash killed all 47 on board and left burning wreckage strewn for several kilometres.
PIA still operate five ATR-42s and five ATR-72s. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced inspections on December 11. The airline expected disruption to flights to smaller airports. Flight 661 was heading to Islamabad, having taken off from Chitral on a domestic flight. The plane reported engine trouble and lost control before the crash.
PIA sacrificed the goat at Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International Airport, ahead of a successful test flight to Multan. PIA stated ground staff acted on their own volition and were not influenced by managers.
Another PIA ATR experienced troubles ahead of takeoff on December 11 and aborted the flight. The airline denied local media claims an engine caught fire. Pakistani media has claimed Flight 661 was operating with some known technical faults. The Aviation Herald reports receiving information to the contrary, and the airline also denies this.
The CAA has left decisions on returning aircraft to service at the discretion of PIA and ATR. A CAA letter to PIA expressed concern over engine failures at the airline, and accused PIA of “shortcomings in maintenance [and] quality assurance.”
The latest crash is the tenth time a PIA aircraft has been written off since 2000. Only one other such accident was fatal, the loss of PIA Flight 688 in 2006. Flight 668, a Fokker F-27, crashed on takeoff. The disaster killed 45. That accident also involved an engine failure and a loss of control.
The ATR-42 can carry up to 48 passengers. It is a twin-engine turboprop capable of using unpaved runways. PIA said the C-130 would be used for flights to Gilgit. With one ATR-42 declared airworthy as of December 15 PIA also said flights to Chitral could be expected to resume soon. A flight on December 15 using the C-130 was postponed by one day.
|Please have me shifted to Islamabad where I can study and fulfil my parents’ dream|
Chairman Azam Saigol quit on December 12 for what he said were personal reasons. He had been drafted in to replace Nasser Jaffer following controversy generated when crews staged strikes to protest planned privatisation. The airline loses around 12-to-15 billion rupees annually, with taxpayers making up the shortfall.
Saigol has been on PIA’s board since 2013. The company said it needed a chair since changing organisational structure under provisions in the Companies Ordinance of 1984. He became chairman in May and is a prominent industrialist nationally, heading up major organisations. Saigol had been working for free, PIA said on December 12 ahead of his resignation.
The government has offered his job to several candidates, all of whom have turned it down.
Another issue for the airline comes in the form of a recently-submitted notice in the Senate. Filed by the People’s Party of Pakistan, it describes an ‘illegal’ sale of a PIA Airbus A-310 to a German firm. Senator Saleem Mandviwalla said the jet had a valid certificate of airworthiness and originally went to Malta to be used in a film.
Mandviwalla said the plane ended up in the hands of a German museum and was sold without the PIA board’s consent. Federal Minister Muhammad Zubair said the aircraft was sold for for 290,000 euros despite being worth millions. Mandviwalla has called for a criminal investigation.
In the continuing Safety Investigation Board’s investigation into Flight 661’s crash, a team of French and Canadian experts from ATR reached Islamabad on December 12 and took forensic samples from the wreck site. The team, assisting the safety board, was also there to plan wreckage removal.
The crash site is remote, with conventional vehicular access ending several kilometres away. Rescuers had to walk the remainder.
PIA state the aircraft was maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, including engine changes. The airline also say the crashed plane’s engines were inspected, as standard, ahead of its final flight. An airline spokesperson asked journalists to refrain from speculating on the accident’s cause.
Bodies have been identified using DNA analysis, with at least sixteen returned to families. Identification was undertaken by the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS).
The dead included six members of the same family, leaving behind a fourteen-year-old girl. Haseena Gul is entitled to tens of millions of rupees (equivalent to hundreds of thousands of euros) in compensation and numerous people have come forward claiming to be her relatives; she had remained with a friend in Chitral to study while her family travelled to Islamabad.
Gul is currently receiving treatment from PIMS for psychological problems. “They will not let me study in Chitral,” she appealed to the government. “Please have me shifted to Islamabad where I can study and fulfil my parents’ dream.”
Also on board was Junaid Jamshed, a celebrated popstar who abandoned music in favour of preaching after joining Tableeghi Jamaat. Jamshed ran a nationally successful fashion business. His wife joined him on the flight. Other passengers included Osama Warraich, who was a senior civil servant in Chitral, and two infants.
On Monday, Flight 898 to Kuala Lumpur diverted to Karachi. A replacement aircraft reached its destination over four hours late. PIA denied media claims the original plane suffered bursts in its hydraulics, but did not clarify what had happened. Also on Monday Flight 764 from from Jeddah to Faisalabad arrived ten hours late. All 130 passengers had their luggage left behind; PIA said it could take up to two days before they were reunited with their belongings.