Pakistan’s aviation problem: Are we learning from our mistakes?

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Muhammad Aziz uddin
The tragic PIA Flight PK 8303 incident brought great pain and sorrow for the nation. While such
accidents bring about great tragedy, it is important that we stress on what we learn from them so that we
prevent any further loss. These accidents necessitate an honest review of changes we have made – or
rather failed to make – in order to avoid such occurrences. PIA must move swiftly and adopt safety as its
core organisational culture. When aviation accidents happen, they are more likely to be embedded in the
system for a long time. In PIA’s case, the prevalent safety culture just aims to tick regulatory compliance
whereas it should be the governing culture – embedded in the organisation’s DNA – of any aviation
body. There are various safety checks in place with an aim to identify potential hazards. No matter how
well the work is organised, how good the procedures are, how well the equipment is designed, people
within an organisation will never perform better than what the organisation will allow. Such events are not

so much the result of error prone worker as they are the result of error prone work environment. Modern-
day air travel is considered to be a relatively safe means of transport. There has been a great reduction

in the accident rate since 1960 and this has mainly been due to enhancements in technology,
operational procedures, and training. The problem is not as much with the equipment as much as the
way the equipment is used. Human error continues to be considered as a major cause in over 70 percent
of aviation accidents. To this end, the global aviation industry has evolved and adopted human
performance principles and practices to consciously reduce human errors. Development and
implementation of Crew Resource Management (CRM), Line Oriented Flight Training (LOFT) to improve
crew coordination in a realistic environment, Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) to improve performance
standards, and Safety Management System (SMS) to put all the responsibility of any accident or incident
where it belongs; that is the management that PIA requires in its true letter and spirit. There is also a
need to change the traditional training philosophy which is based only on knowledge, skills, and
experience, and is generally employed in Pakistan’s aviation industry. Global aviation safety standards
have introduced a new stream of key focus areas that are an inherent part of training programs across
the world. Therefore, Pakistan needs a serious and honest review of whether its aviation industry gives
proper attention to key focus areas such as attitude development, stress management, risk
management, psycho-motor skills, flight deck management, and crew coordination. The investigation into
the PK 8303 crash should be objective and must be made public and if Pakistan fails to conduct an
independent investigation into this accident, then another opportunity to set our course right will be lost.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) provides a complete framework of how
investigations into aviation accidents should be conducted. According to ICAO’s recommended
practices, investigators should enjoy complete independence, unrestricted authority, and should have the
ability to withstand political pressure. In cultures like ours, such investigations can often be derailed and
findings can be hushed up. Different stakeholders including individuals, government figures, airlines,
regulator etc. can look to safeguard their own interests and reputations rather than looking into all the
causal factors. Paul Stephen Dempsey wrote in the Independence of Aviation Safety Investigation
Authorities Journal 2011 about the importance of avoiding conflict of interest in such investigations.
Dempsey wrote that the safety investigator and regulator need to be separated. While the investigator
looks at the causes of safety accidents and makes recommendations, the regulator should enforce
regulations. Therefore, instances where these lines are blurred and where this difference between the
investigator and regulator is not maintained are inherently flawed. As Dempsey puts it in his paper, the
fox should never be allowed to guard the hen house. Involving Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) from
operators, regulators, industry, and pilots in the PK 8303 investigation is critical. The involvement of
these experts will make the investigation objective and will not offer symptomatic treatment but will take a
deep dive into structural flaws that need to be addressed by Pakistan’s aviation industry at large and by
PIA in particular. Involving the Pakistan Airline Pilots Association (PALPA), for instance, will only add
more credibility to the investigation.