-Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan
Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan says that unless the world discovers a sustainable cure for novel coronavirus, the full scale recommencement of international flights operation from Pakistan is a far cry.
In an interview with THE CONSUL, Ghulam Sarwar Khan said that due to Covid-19 pandemic, the cash strapped Pakistani aviation industry struggles for survival not for the revival.
Question: Can you give a time frame for the restoration of international flights?
Sarwar: It is not Pakistan alone, but there are several countries that have much bigger airlines industry than Pakistan bur are still indecisive whether or not to resume the international flight operations. I think it is not possible unless, a sustainable cure is discovered or the virus vanishes for good. There are two forums National Command Operation Center (NCOC) and National Coordination Committee (NCC) that will take a decision in this regard. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) resumed 20 percent of domestic flights pursuant to the decisions of NCOC and NCC.
Question: Emirates and Ittehad Airlines stopped flights operations for Pakistan; will the government take up this matter with these Airlines?
Sarwar: They have temporarily stopped flight operations due to increase of coronavirus cases in Pakistan; however, they have assured to review the decision in a couple of weeks.
Question: While there is massive layoff within the airlines and aviation industry across the globe because of the pandemic, is Pakistani aviation ministry planning for downsizing?
Sarwar: Due to the limited flight operations Lufthansa is planning to lay off about 30000 employees, British Airways also thinking to dismiss 12000 to 15000 staff, EasyJet, Raynair, Atlantic airways have also planned for downsizing. Unfortunately, there is already overstaffing in the aviation industry of Pakistan. As per international practice, leading and profit earning airlines have 150 employees per plane including pilots, cabin crew, technical and ground staff. However, in Pakistan this ratio is around 550 for one plane.
Question: What was the reason for such a huge overstaffing in Pakistani aviation industry?
Sarwar: It is because of the politicizing of this institution. For example, Pakistan International Airlines was a profitable entity during the regime of retired General Pervez Musharraf. However, previous two successive political regimes played havoc with the airline industry.
Question: Is there any possibility of the revival of national flag carrier as the business development strategy of the PIA is awaiting to be enforced for several months?
Sarwar: We are struggling for survival, it is not the time for revival. If we can pass this critical juncture, then we can think of revival and exploring new arenas.
Question: Let’s talk about Karachi plane crash. What steps are being taken in order to avoid such incidents in future?
Sarwar: We have started scrutiny of our pilots. Out of 860 active pilots in the country, 262 pilots had appeared in exams through proxies. The degrees of four pilots were found to be fake. 54 such pilots were identified and show-cause notices had been issued to 28 of them. 9 of them confessed that they were unqualified and sought pardon.
We have taken this issue of pilots licensing, examination, training, behavior and educational testimonials very seriously. We will proceed against them and those found guilty will be given exemplary punishment. They will not only be terminated from service but criminal proceedings will be initiated against them for fraud and cheating public at large. The Civil Aviation Authority will also recover the salaries, perks and privileges from the unqualified pilots. Unfortunately, the pilots are so influential that nobody can question them about anything. However, monitoring of employees has started on a daily basis on which strict actions will be taken.
Question: How the investigation into Karachi plane crash is being conducted?
Sarwar: The Head of the Investigation Team found the voice recorder and he personally took it to France. It was examined in the presence of the company that manufactured the engine of that plane. The observers including experts from the European Union were also present there. I have also overseen the inquiry and am quite satisfied.
Question: Whether there was some technical problem in the plane or it was a result of human error?
Sarwar: The initial investigation report did not point out any technical fault in the plane. The crash has so far been attributed to human error. For example when the pilot was at a distance of 10 nautical miles, its height was 7280 ft instead a standard of 2500 ft. The Air Traffic Controller (ATC) pointed this out to the Pilot and suggested to him to take another round to reduce the height gradually. The pilot, however, continued landing but could not complete it and in this exercise the engine touched the surface thrice. When he again made a takeoff, the engine collapsed which resulted into crash.
Question: What was the communication between the ATC and the Pilot at this critical juncture?
Sarwar: The Pilot and the Co-Pilot both were discussing coronavirus throughout the journey. It seems that there focus was the Covid-19, not the safe landing. ATC made them some suggestions, but he was snubbed by the Pilot. When the plane was about to crash, the Pilot recited Allah’s name thrice.
Question: In your opinion what is the causes of plane crashes in Pakistan?
Sarwar: In past few years, we have witnessed the Air Blue, Bhoja, PIA’s air crashes in Islamabad, Karachi, Gilgit and an Islamabad bound flight from Chitral in Haripur. Except the Haripur plane crash, the rest were the result of human error. This is because in the past, the successive government preferred induction of pilots on political basis. They were given licences without any strict criteria.