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PIA is losing credibility

July 15, 2008
PIA aircraft damaged while landing in Italy
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
By Saad HasanKARACHI: A dangerous mishap in handling of a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) aircraft has again brought to fore the incompetence, which has marred the performance of the airline.

One of PIA’s latest Boeing 777s, carrying 269 passengers besides 17 crew members, was badly damaged while descending for a landing at Milan, Italy, on July 3. It suffered major structural damage and is still grounded there.

The aircraft, which is equipped with modern weather avoidance system and state-of-the-art technology, during the descent went through a severe hailstorm, something that could have been avoided had onboard facilities been properly used, officials in the airline told The News.

“The aircraft’s exterior body and windscreen have been damaged due to the hailstorm,” PIA’s Public Affairs Division said in a written reply. “An assessment is being done and Boeing company will inform accordingly.”

While PIA has not given complete details of the damage caused to the aircraft, which was inducted into the fleet a year ago, information available with this correspondent explains the severity of the incident.

The aircraft’s nose radome, which houses the weather radar, was badly damaged, the pressurisation system packs inlet totally destroyed and leading edge flaps on both wings severely dented. There are other perforations, dents on the fuselage and major rivets undone. Both the outer panes of the cockpit front windshields were broken, impairing visibility of both pilots.

“It’s not normal to lose visibility by getting the windscreen damaged of a big aircraft,” said a senior PIA engineer. “It is sheer incompetence on the part of the pilots.” The engineer who wished not to be named for fear of wrath of the management said the B-777 (AP-BHX) avionics are capable of gauging the intensity of weather from miles away.

The aircraft, which was coming from Paris, landed at Milan on autopilot and with aid of the on-board navigation system, which coupled with Milan airfield’s reliable instrument landing system avoided a crash. Experienced pilots all over the world are trained to avoid all sorts of weather conditions, which not only cause inconvenience to passengers, but can damage an aircraft severely, leading to a serious accident.

Contrary to PIA’s version, sources say the aircraft had 179 passengers after taking off from Paris, while the total seating capacity is about 300 passengers, which points out that the aircraft was far below the take off weight and landing weight limits.

It was being flown by Capt Ahsan ur Rahman and First Officer Khalid Azmat. This flight was being operated with multiple crew comprising three pilots, because of the extended flight time. According to PIA, Capt Ahsan is a highly experienced pilot with 21,645 hours of total flying experience, whereas First officer Khalid has 8,779 hours of experience.

“PIA has had a lot of problems lately with pilot career planning, which is normally based on the most experienced crew flying the most-heavy aircrafts,” said an airline official. Aviation experts say that it must be investigated whether the aircraft’s weather avoidance system was not used properly or whether it was not functioning properly.

PIA has lately been facing problems due to lack of experienced and qualified engineers. Over 200 engineers left the airline to seek better prospects, disregarding the fact that it was PIA which trained them for the airline’s benefit. The airline is now faced with the looming prospect of raw pilots trained by the airline, gaining experience and then leaving the airline for better emoluments.

In spite of restrictions imposed by PIA which seek to discourage such engineers and pilots from leaving at will after gaining experience, the human resource has been flowing out on recommendations of powerful.

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