PIA attempting to use outdated aircraft for Hajj operations

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The aviation secretary said that the planes were not grounded due to any technical reasons but because of age limits imposed locally under the Aviation Policy 2015. PHOTO:EXPRESS

In an attempt to use aging aircraft for Hajj operations beginning August, the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) management has sought a nod from the authorities to waive all safety regulations for its two-decades-old planes grounded over six months ago, compromising the safety of thousands of passengers.

According to official sources, a recent letter from the PIA chief executive officer (CEO) to the federal secretary for aviation division admitted that its three aging Airbus A310 and 300 aircraft had already spent their lives and had been grounded in December 2016, but at the same time, ‘requested’ to use them for Hajj operations because replacements for these planes were not available with the national carrier.

To take this risky initiative, the PIA CEO has proposed exemptions from all safety checks for the aging aircraft and sought the federal government’s help to pursue and persuade Saudi authorities who don’t allow older fleet operations and have stringent aviation requirements.

 “A fresh tender for up to two wide body aircraft has been issued but the replacement aircraft may not be available with PIA,” the letter argues as a reason to use the out-dated planes.

To deal with the problem, the PIA chief’s letter suggests “a one-time relaxation in Aviation Policy 2015 allowing operation of aircraft older than 20 years for maximum six months beyond threshold of March 2017.”

He also suggested that the aircraft be exempted from technical and safety checks and permission be obtained from Saudi Arabia aviation authorities.

“Extension of limited authorisation on “Stop Rudder Input Warning” medication by Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority for another six months,” the letter suggests, adding: “Permission from PCAA for cannibalization [removal and reuse of parts from similar machines] of engine and landing gears from A-310s having expired certificate of airworthiness.”

Such exemptions from security checks could prove to be disastrous if allowed by the authorities, said aviation experts.

“An extension on an Airbus modification related to the rudder was the cause of a crash of an aircraft in a country outside Pakistan,” said an aviation expert. “This is a major modification and it’s quite surprising that PIA wants it waived off.”

“Similarly permissions for cannibalisation of Airbus 310 aircraft engines and landing gear one should know that the aircraft to be cannibalised are not airworthy. The landing gears are also on extension and CAA had already given them [PIA] waivers on certain cycles. These rudders, engines and landing gear are potentially a grave safety concern,” he said.

Sources within the PIA said the suggestions from the carrier to use aging and grounded aircraft have come after the airline sustained millions in losses due to ill-planned decisions.

“After grounding these planes, the PIA had leased 330 aircraft from Sri Lanka for $8,000 per hour against its original rate $4,000 per hour,” said a PIA official requesting not to be named. “Then the Sri Lankan crew was paid salaries in dollars for four consecutive months, and USD20,000 per month salary was also paid to the captains. After such huge outflow of funds, the management realised its financial losses.”

When contacted  about PIA’s request to use out-dated aircraft for Hajj operations and their exemption from safety checks, the federal secretary for aviation division, Irfan Elahi assured that passengers’ safety would not be compromised.

“PIA is not looking for any waiver from the CAA or Airbus,” said Elahi, who has served as the airline’s chairman in the past. “The A-310 aircraft will fly if they are 100 percent airworthy as certified not only by the CAA but also from the manufacturer.”

He added that the planes were not grounded due to any technical reasons but because of age limits imposed locally under the Aviation Policy 2015.
“A-310 aircrafts are still flying in different parts of the world,” he said.

THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE