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A wake-up call to our airlines industry

  • Published at 06:28 pm March 27th, 2018
  • Last updated at 12:07 am March 28th, 2018
A wake-up call to  our airlines industry
Today, my thoughts and prayers are with Tamjid and his family, with the parents of co-pilot Prithula Rashid, and the families of the other victims who lost their lives in the ill-fated US-Bangla flight to Kathmandu on Marth 12, 2018. These families have lost their loved ones, and, as a nation, we have lost many bright citizens. Any accident in the transport sector is a tragedy, but airplane accidents usually attract more attention. This is probably because airplane accidents are more deadly compared to other accidents in the transport sector, and, also because people have a general understanding that air transport is the safest mode of transport. The real cause of the US-Bangla plane crash is yet to be known, but various reports indicate that a general lack of safety in our private airlines industry might as well have triggered this crash. One pilot, in one of the reports, stated that: “This accident was just waiting to happen.” Cockroaches on the plane, air conditioner not working properly throughout the flight, or air conditioners dripping water are just some of the minor issues which have become common on the aircrafts operated by Bangladeshi private airlines. Flight delays and cancellations due to technical problems with these old aircrafts are quite common as well. In a news report, co-pilot Prithula’s mother stated that “a few days ago before the crash, Prithula mentioned that she became scared operating an aircraft because it had become difficult to control due to the poor state of the aircraft.” From past reports we have learned that there were two incidents where one of the engines of a US-Bangla aircraft stalled mid-air and on a few occasions the plane skidded off the runway. Also disingenuous is how private airline companies often try to pass off old airliners as “state of the art.” Even though the road and water transport safety record in our country is nothing to be proud of, operators in these sectors at least have an understanding that buses or ferries are not supposed to be operated in harsh weather conditions, especially when visibility is low.
The cost of overlooking safety in the air transport sector is too high and the margin of error is too small
However, it is quite alarming to know that even though operating an aircraft is tougher and riskier than operating a bus or a ferry, the simple practice of not operating a plane in harsh weather and low visibility condition is not religiously followed by the private airlines industry. Although, in terms of road safety, fatigue driving is considered to be as dangerous as drunk driving -- if not more -- it is quite appalling to learn that pilots in the private airlines industry are forced to fly when they are fatigued and, in fact, fired if they complain about it. We have learned that, on the day of the tragedy, Captain Abid and co-pilot Prithula had already operated four flights before starting on their flight to Kathmandu. Flying an airplane is no easy task, and it is not too far-fetched to imagine that the fatigue they had accrued over the course of the previous flights had affected them. In a news briefing, one of the personnel from US-Bangla airlines rejected the claim that Captain Abid and co-pilot Prithula were tired. In fact, he mentioned that there was no scope for the pilots to be tired as each of the four flights they operated were only about 30-40 minutes long and that they had been given 30 minutes on land to recover from the exhaustion. The airlines tone-deaf statement is just proof of how little understanding they have of a pilot’s capacity to juggle their workload and stress, as 30 minutes does not sound anywhere near an acceptable amount of time to decompress in between flights. It is not only the duration of the flight that matters but also the number of times they have to take off and land. In addition, when on land, pilots generally do not really get to rest, but they have additional work to do in preparing for their next flight. People in our country are now flying more frequently than ever before. This has increased the demand for private airlines. To stay competitive, these airlines are offering attractive ticket fares. In doing so, they are lowering their operation cost by overlooking safety. However, the cost of overlooking safety in the air transport sector is too high and the margin of error is too small. The private airlines industry (not to discount the state-owned Biman Bangladesh) have to understand the gravity of their responsibility, the importance of safety, and the value of their clients’ lives. Safety should be their top priority as we really do not want to lose any more lives like we did on March 12. Therefore, rather than denying the irregularities which are going on in our private airlines industry, for the sake of their passengers, pilots, and crew members, it is time that the industry took this tragedy as a wake-up call and got their act together. They should accept their shortcomings and assure the nation that they value human life by improving their safety standards. This is the least they owe to the families of the victims of BS211. Ridwan Quaium is a transport engineer working in Thailand.