For probably the first time in the history of Pakistan, a plane crash report has been made public. The Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan promulgated the initial report of the Pakistan International Airline’s plane crash in Model Colony Karachi near Jinnah International Airport.
The Aviation Minister told Parliament on Wednesday that the primary cause of the crash is Human error by the pilots and air traffic control. “The pilot ignored the instructions of the air traffic controllers and the ATC, on the other hand, did not inform the pilot about the engine colliding,” he said.
The minister pointed out that the aircraft touched the runway thrice without the landing gear which caused damage to its engines. He also divulged that the cabin crew and ATC were also responsible for the tragedy. Further, he said that there was no technical fault with the aircraft and even the pilot had not said the same in his conversation with the air traffic controllers. He said that the complete and detailed investigation report will be presented in one year’s time and that all responsible parties will be held accountable.
However, for the public in general, the initial report of the plane crash contains nothing new to be taken seriously as is evident from past experiences for any such reports. The intentions of the government to punish those responsible for the debacle have always been put under litigious questioning because of the lack of public confidence in government inquiry reports for such incidents.
Some of the questions to be considered are, what are the most common causes of airplane crashes globally and nationally? Is air travel really as hazardous as observed in PIA’s track record? What is the worth of this investigation report and what will be the outcome? Most importantly, Who are the real culprits behind PIA’s failure?
First of all, the real reason for a plane crash usually comes down to four categories: human error, weather, mechanical error, and sabotage. Unfortunately in Pakistan, Human errors have been the cause of the majority of crashes. As these errors are predominately skill-based and decision errors and can be improved with adequate qualification, training, and alertness of pilots during flights.
Weather-related events are a rare cause of crashes around the world. Internationally, mechanical errors are involved in 23% of fatal accidents and are most likely to happen in smaller propeller aircrafts. Pakistan’s Airlines have also allegedly crashed due to outdated aircraft fleets. The most unlikely cause is sabotage which makes up just 7% of all crashes worldwide.
With regard to safety, the chances for a plane crash are very unlikely as compared to other means of transportation and travel. Astonishingly, air travel is considered to be the safest means of traveling in the world. So much so that the odds of dying in a plane crash are only 1 in 11million as compared to a car accident which is about 1 in 200. These statistics make the aviation industry the safest way to travel worldwide.
Only 13 deaths were recorded in 2 fatal plane crashes worldwide. Given that there are 35 million flights each year transporting about 3.5 billion passengers; it is evident just how minimal the risk truly is. Putting it into perspective, for every 1 billion passenger miles traveled by car 7.2 people die. By plane, the number is reduced to 0.07 deaths. In fact even in a plane crash, one still has a 95.7% chance of walking away with minor injuries.
Generally, takeoffs and landings are considered to be dangerous. Around half of the accidents occur during either of the two short phases of the trip- the takeoffs and landings. Takeoff and the initial climb take up only 2% of the entire flight but account for 14% of fatal accidents. A plane cruises for more than half (57%) of the 1.5-hour trip; but only 11% of fatal accidents occur during this phase. The final descent and landing take up about 4% of the average flight but, a whopping 49% of fatal accidents occur in this short window, making the final descent and landing the deadliest part of a flight.
Unfortunately, in Pakistan, this is the 11th major crash in PIA’s history and until today about 13 planes have not been able to arrive at their predefined destinations safely. More than 875 people have lost their lives in PIA plane crashes. So there seems to be incompetency and negligence in the airline.
With regard to incompetence in the national airline, the political parties and their unions in PIA have been accused of using influence to hire incompetent employees out of merit. Corroborating the fact, in the past, the PML (N) leader Mushaid Ullah, PPP leader Faisal Raza Abidi and many others have been accused of nepotism and out of merit hiring in almost all the departments of PIA.
Another factor, which the Minister for Aviation also brought to light, is the fake degrees of the pilots in Pakistan. According to him, more than 250 pilots have fake degrees out of around 850 pilots in total. But the point of serious concern here is; how the pilots who are PPL (Private Pilot License) qualified to get the CPL(Commercial Pilot License) after passing through a proper mechanism run by the public office of PCAA(Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority) with their fake degrees. That feels like a failure of PCAA and Aviation Ministry
Conclusively, given the facts and statistics of aviation accidents globally; it is indeed true that air travel is the safest way of transportation in the world. But, seemingly airlines operating in Pakistan, especially PIA is an unfortunate exception. How are other international airlines operating with large fleets running so safely and efficiently? Even budget airlines like Ryanair, which has 457 aircrafts, have a better track record than PIA. Furthermore, Emirates successfully and safely flows 3600 flights weekly without incident.
Although most commonly the blame for a crash falls on the pilot, it is very less likely that those in top positions would see retribution as well. This time too, the blame has fallen on an air traffic controller and a deceased pilot, while no one seems to be taking any action against the root causes of such accidents.