DAWN Editorials | June 26, 2020

Air crash report

THE preliminary report into the PK-8303 air crash largely bears out earlier suspicions; but it has also thrown up more questions.

Some of them, it is hoped, will be answered in the final report as this is an ongoing investigation, and little to no analysis can be expected at this point. Other questions, pertaining to more fundamental aspects of commercial aviation in Pakistan, are not part of the investigation’s purview but they demand a separate, brutally honest, solution-driven inquiry.

PK-8303 was flying from Lahore to Karachi on May 22 when it crashed 1,340m from the runway threshold in its second attempt at landing. The first one had seen it come in with its landing gear retracted, engines furiously scraping the tarmac and sparks flying. The pilots’ decision to do a ‘go around’ turned out to be disastrous because, as per the report, the engines show evidence of having been damaged in the belly landing.

The aircraft, unable to maintain the required height, crashed minutes later in a nearby residential locality. Ninety-seven people on board, and later one person on the ground, lost their lives. Two passengers miraculously survived.

According to the aviation minister, “overconfident pilots” and air traffic control officials were responsible for the crash. The findings thus far do indicate catastrophic mismanagement in the approach protocol.

The crew, to quote the report, “did not follow standard callouts” and when the ATC advised them twice to discontinue the approach on account of excessive height, the “landing approach was not discontinued”.

Moreover, air traffic control officials who witnessed the “scrubbing” of the engines with the runway “did not convey this abnormality to the aircraft”. Some inexplicable actions by the crew will certainly be probed further. For instance, why did the pilots lower the landing gear at 2,200m only to retract it at 530m?

The crew may also have been distracted instead of focusing single-mindedly on their approach to Karachi; according to the minister, they were discussing the pandemic even during the landing phase. Moreover, the co-pilot appears to have made no attempt to correct the captain or counter his decisions in any way. All in all, there was a total failure of crew resource management on the flight deck.

The PK-8303 crash did not happen in a vacuum: it is inextricably linked to the rot within PIA and its regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority. When the aviation minister presented the preliminary investigation report before the National Assembly, he also made a shocking revelation that of 860 active pilots in the country, 262 had appeared in exams through proxies.

So far, he said, PIA has decided to ground 150 of its pilots for possessing ‘dubious’ licences issued by CAA. There must be a root-and-branch overhaul of both organisations and the problems that bedevil them — or else another tragedy like that which befell PK-8303 is inevitable.

 

Premature optimism

REPORTS that Covid-19 cases in Pakistan have been falling in recent days should be viewed with caution. According to data released by the National Command and Operation Centre, the past few days witnessed between 4,000 to 5,000 daily cases as compared to mid-June which saw between 5,000 and 7,000 cases.

If reviewed without context, these figures do look promising. However, the same period in which coronavirus cases supposedly declined also witnessed a sharp reduction in tests. Where authorities had conducted north of 31,000 in a single day around mid-June, in the past few days the numbers have fallen to below 25,000. In fact, according to one NCOC press release on June 25, the total number of tests was below 22,000.

While officials are eager to pat themselves on the back and are marvelling at what they claim is the success of ‘smart lockdowns’ or achievement of ‘herd immunity’, the celebrations are premature if not entirely unjustified.

The true picture of Pakistan’s Covid-19 infections can be understood through simple calculations. One likely factor behind the fewer positive cases is that fewer people are being tested. The focus of the authorities should not be on the number of people testing positive, but rather on the number of tests being done and the percentage of total tests versus total positive cases in a single day. This percentage mid-June was between 18pc and 22pc, which meant that 18 to 22 out of every 100 people tested were Covid-19 positive. In the last five days, that percentage has been recorded at between 16pc to 20pc — a 2pc reduction which can hardly be claimed as a victory when testing was reduced by a third.

One official suggested that although there is no policy to have fewer tests, the fact that tests are being reduced simply on account of “fewer people coming to the hospital with symptoms” cannot be the basis upon which to claim success.

As we know, and much like the global trend for Covid-19 cases, community transmission is rampant. Testing must be ramped up; in the case where fewer suspected Covid-19 patients are seeking tests at hospitals, it must be done in communities to assess how widespread the infection is. A reduction in testing at this stage, when the government and healthcare experts fear a peak around mid-August, is unacceptable. Authorities must make good on their commitment to increase testing to 100,000 daily and sustain this over a prolonged period. Only then can victories and losses be documented.

 

A heavy price

IT is unfortunate that Radiullah alias Amiray from Tehkal in Peshawar district has found himself in the company of those who mock the police system. But unlike Salahuddin Ayubi, the infamous ATM thief from Gujranwala whose antics cost him his life, Radiullah is lucky to have survived the brutish humiliation and beating inflicted on him by police for his undoubtedly appalling behaviour. The details of the fresh case show that even countless pledges and attempts to improve policing haven’t had much effect on those tasked with enforcing the law. The footage that has found its way into homes across the country shows demeaning images. Such cases may tarnish the KP police’s reputation as an arguably more professional force than its counterparts in the rest of the country. Action was only taken after the chief minister ordered the IG to do so. Four policemen have been suspended for allegedly torturing Radiullah after he angered the officials with his taunts in a video message that went viral. The man who appears in a second set of video footage is Radiullah too, but after he has been stripped of his clothing — and the dignity that every human being is born with. Judicial notice has been taken of the incident amid public outrage which manifested itself in street protests in some places.

The incident is likely to reignite the discussion on how the KP government has not been able to follow up on the Police Act, 2017, to ensure greater autonomy for police in the province and consequently greater accountability of police personnel. The absence of the much-promised public safety commissions is probably going to be lamented as the terrified cries of a man stripped bare pierces the conscience of those who still retain their ability to be shocked. But what about justice for Radiullah? Back in the ATM theft case in Punjab last year, the deceased Salahuddin’s father forgave the policemen. Maybe the few good people around can ensure that this time round a trial will be held.


Published in The DAWN, June 26, 2020

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