Aircraft Safety, Maintenance: Regulator under fire
Former pilots and aviation experts yesterday came down heavily on the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) and accused it of irregularities and failing to overseeing safety measures in private airlines.
They also criticised private carriers of the country for overworking their pilots and cutting corners in terms of safety.
They alleged that CAAB often compromised with safety and maintenance of aircrafts of private airlines in exchange for undue benefits from them.
They made the comments at a programme titled “Safe journey by air: obstacles and doable” organised by State University of Bangladesh at its auditorium.
The discussion was organised just over two weeks after a US-Bangla aircraft crashed in Kathmandu airport killing 50 people, including 27 Bangladeshis.
Pilots, who knew Capt Abid Sultan of the US-Bangla flight BS211, said Abid was dissatisfied with his job and was fatigued after flying Dhaka-Chittagong-Dhaka.
“Why did the airlines management send him to Kathmandu and why was it not noticed by the regulatory authority?” said Squadron Leader (retd) Capt Wahid, a former pilot of US-Bangla Airlines.
Capt Wahid said he had spoken to Abid nine times the night before the ill-fated flight.
He claimed that BS211's first officer Prithula Rashid was on her first mission to Kathmandu and assigning her was a serious planning mistake made by the airlines.
He said CAAB would have to monitor such issues strictly.
Wahid also questioned the quality of pilots graduating from different flying clubs. “If things go like this, we are heading for a serious disaster in the days to come,” he said.
AFM Nurul Alam, former technical chief of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, said the fatigue level of Capt Abid was high and his mental state was not sound.
He said there were allegations that private airlines sometimes stress pilots by overwhelming them with work.
“We even hear allegations from pilots that the managements put pressure on them to fly despite small issues in planes and without putting those into the logbooks.”
Capt SM Helal, former president of Bangladesh Airlines Pilot Association, criticised CAAB for failing to oversee and being negligent in ensuring safety and maintenance of aircraft.
“When any pilot lands in Hong Kong, London or Singapore airport, they fear that the civil aviation authorities of those countries would issue a warning for their shortcomings,” Capt Helal said, adding, “But in the last 29 years, no CAAB inspector checked my records or logbooks after landing in Dhaka.”
Helal said private airlines do not fear CAAB as they “manage” CAAB officials with undue benefits. “If they [CAAB officials] are in my pocket, then why will I bother to go by CAAB regulations?”
The ex-pilot slammed Air Traffic Control officials for their lack of skills in communicating with pilots in English.
Zannaty Eva, a former pilot of United Airlines, shared how she narrowly escaped a disaster while landing a training aircraft at Sylhet Osmani International Airport in 2014. She said the poor communication skills of the air traffic controller could have resulted in the loss of her own life along with the lives of the five passengers on board.
Veteran pilot Alamgir Sattar in his speech said CAAB needs to become stricter in ensuring fitness of aircraft, pilots, and crew members in line with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) rules and regulations.
He said CAAB would not be able to stop accidents if it did not stop corruption in CAAB.
Alamgir said Capt Abid could have been over confident.
Muhammad Masud Chowdhury, an expert in aviation and international communication, said CAAB should never compromise with issuing certificate of airworthiness. “Please never bow down to any pressure in issuing airworthiness certificates. If need be, resign from your post but do not compromise with the safety and security of the aircraft.”
Wing Commander Ziaul Kabir, director (flight safety) of CAAB, refuted the allegations made against CAAB and said ICAO had recently certified CAAB for achieving 77.46 percent effective implementation of aviation safety standards.
The auditors looked into eight specific issues, like primary aviation legislation, organisation, personal licencing, operations, airworthiness, aircraft accident investigation, and air navigation services, he said.
He said the allegations being raised now were actually 10 to 15 years old.
US-Bangla Airlines CEO Imran Asif refuted the allegations that airlines put pressure on pilots and crew members to work violating the ICAO rules. He said his airlines went by the CAAB and ICAO books.
Samanta Lal Sen, chief national coordinator for plastic surgery and all burn projects in Bangladesh, stressed the need for forming a disaster management committee and plan ahead for such accidents.
Aviation expert Kazi Whidul Alam, former managing director of Biman MA Momen, Wing Commander (retd) Hasan Masud also spoke.