- A lot of question need to be answered
There were a number of notes struck by the Karachi air tragedy, all of them discordant and painful. The 99 passengers and eight crew members on board included a high proportion of those joining families in Karachi from Lahore for Eidul Fitr, which is just days away. There are bound to be questions. The first would obviously be asked of PIA, especially after the pilot had claimed, during his landing approach, to have been suffering technical problems. That needs to be explored, because the airplane involved was not all that old. However, PIA has got a number of maintenance issues, which include cannibalization of parts, and a can-do attitude which is often reckless about safety. That will have to be examined in detail, to see if it played any role in the whole affair. The fact that aircrafts have remained grounded for a considerable period of time during the recently lifted lockdown also raises questions about their condition.
Then there is the question of how it was possible to build a residential colony so near to the airport. Closeness to the airport may be desirable in a location, but there is such a thing as being too close, and not because planes crash into houses routinely. It is not as if the housing colony where the plane crashed was an existing development; it has been developed after the airport had been sited there, which meant that it had been given planning permission even though it was too close to the airport. Apart from crashes, an ancillary reason for avoiding residential areas near airports is that they generate refuse, which in turn attracts scavenging birds, which then end up as bird hits. Even if a crash is averted, if the bird is sucked into an engine intake, the repairs are both costly and time-consuming.
It was perhaps an unfortunate coincidence that this tragedy took place so soon after the re-opening of domestic flights which had been shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. There is a sad irony in the debate on the re-opening of flights being about whether lives would be risked, while there was no imagining the way in which so many precious lives would actually be lost. While PIA must review its safety practices, the various tiers of Karachi’s administration must review how a housing colony got built so close to the airport, and what to do about other residential areas clustered around the airport. That is an exercise other cities must carry out quickly, before there is another tragedy.