KARACHI: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has, after many weeks and repeated requests, finally responded to a serious air safety violation committed by a senior pilot. However, rather than addressing the issues raised in media reports on the subject, they have issued a sweeping statement stating that no violation was ever committed by the pilot and safety of the flight was not compromised.

PIA documents, however, suggest otherwise.

Pilot Qasim Hayat had operated a Lahore-Toronto flight on April 7, 2015 without taking the mandatory 24 hours rest, violating not only the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rules, but also violating his schedule prepared by PIA. Though scheduled to travel from Islamabad to Lahore on April 5, he instead left for Lahore on the night of April 6 and then operated the Toronto-bound flight early morning on April 7, taking a break of less than 10 hours.

PIA spokesperson Aamir Memon in his response said, “Capt Qasim Hayat has not committed any violation and did not compromise any safety issue by performing PIA flight PK789 (Lahore-Toronto). The pilot initially scheduled for the flight suffered from personal grief due to a sudden death in the family therefore, Capt Qasim was requested to take the flight to avoid inconvenience to the passengers. He was medically fit, rested and acclimatised.

“The matter was thoroughly looked into both by the PIA and CAA and decided on merit and only they have the authority to do so and nobody else. Besides, the flight (Lahore-Toronto-Lahore) departed and arrived back safely without any safety issue,” adds the PIA response.

PIA documents, however, tell a different story.

A PIA document captioned ‘Details for Crew Route 789 on Sun, 5 Apr 2015’ for Qasim Hayat (ID 38790) says that: “Qasim Hayat will travel through flight PK657 from Islamabad to Lahore on Sunday and take a 39 hour rest at a Lahore hotel (name and telephone number of which are also provided) and then operate flight PK789 from Lahore to Toronto (on aircraft number AP-BGY) on April 7. He was scheduled to take a 73 hours and 46 minutes rest at Delta Chelsea Hotel in Canada. He had to operate the return flight PK782 (Toronto-Karachi) on Friday April 10 and then go to Islamabad on April 11.”

This was the scheduled journey of Qasim Hayat, but he did not follow the first leg of the trip (Islamabad-Lahore) as had been scheduled, which delayed his arrival at Lahore cutting short the 39 hour rest, as planned, to less than 10 hours – well short of the mandatory 24-hour rest.

Another PIA document captioned ‘Virtual Coupon Record’ for Capt Qasim Hayat says that he took flight PK655 on April 6, 2015 from Lahore to Islamabad. The status of the ticket is “used”. The document confirms that Qasim Hayat had travelled from Islamabad to Lahore on April 6.

This reporter had asked Mr Memon many simple and specific questions weeks back but he has not bothered to respond to them. The questions were: when did Capt Qasim Hayat travel from Islamabad to Lahore; when did he operate the flight from Lahore to Canada in the first week of April 2015; mention all the times and dates; departure from Islamabad for Lahore; arrival at Lahore; departure from Lahore to Canada.

Rather than responding to these questions, Mr Memon issued a sweeping statement, which is not in conformity with the PIA documents mentioned above.

If the initially-scheduled pilot could not operate the flight owing to personal reasons, any other pilot, who had taken at least 24 hour mandatory rest at Lahore, could have been deputed to operate the flight. Even pilot Qasim Hayat was acceptable if he had followed the schedule given by PIA which provided more than the mandatory rest in Lahore.

As far as the safe return of PIA’s flight operated by Qasim Hayat is concerned it was sheer luck that the 300-plus passengers on board arrived safely otherwise the airline was taking a huge and unnecessary risk by sending a less-rested pilot on a long-haul flight. In aviation circles it is said that sending a fatigued crew on flight duty is an invitation to disaster.

Equally irresponsible is the attitude of CAA spokesperson Pervez George as this reporter had asked him for the CAA’s version on the issue many times in the past many weeks and if any inquiry had been initiated about this serious air safety violation. Despite repeated phone calls and emails he has not yet responded showing how serious the CAA takes its role as the aviation regulator in the country.

It is high time that the federal government initiate a high-level enquiry in to this violation headed by experts who will function independently of PIA and CAA.

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