Pakistani domestic air carriers face increased scrutiny from civil aviation officials following the fatal accident of a Bhoja Air Boeing 737-200 (Flight B4-231) on April 20. But some critics say this oversight is too little and too late.
All 127 people aboard the Boeing 737 died in the accident, which occurred during an IFR approach to Islamabad-Benazir Bhutto International Airport in an area of thunderstorms, rain showers and poor visibility. Bhoja Air had previously suspended operations in 2001 for financial reasons. Flight B4-231 was to to be the airline’s return-to-service flight.
One AIN source in the region said, “They [Bhoja Air] managed to get their hands on the capital needed to find some planes, hire some staff and restart operations. The Pakistani CAA just rubber-stamped everything. Corruption, whether in the form of bribery or cronyism, is very present in Pakistan. Overloading aircraft is common practice, with passengers often forced to sit in the toilet or on jumpseats.”
Within just a few days of the crash of the Bhoja Air 737, the Pakistan-based domestic carrier reportedly ceased operations. However, as of April 27, the airline’s website stated that, “Alhomdilillah CAA has cleared our aircraft for flying after re-checking it upon directions of MOD.”
Casting further uneasiness on the safety of airline operations in Pakistan, the Bhoja Air’s director, Farkhand Iqbal, apparently unaware of international accident-investigation protocol, personally removed both the flight data and cockpit voice recorders from the accident site and took them to his home, before turning them over to authorities 24 hours later.
An International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) spokesman told AIN that ICAO has no authority in any country’s domestic airline operations. AIN’s regional source also said, “Until an airline that actually implements good safety practices arrives [in Pakistan], and the public is actually willing to pay a premium for an airline that doesn’t cut corners, nothing will ever change.”