Human Error Blamed For Pakistan Plane Crash

Filed Under: Other Airlines

On May 22 a Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A320 crashed on approach to Karachi, killing 97 people. While there were some theories as to what happened, it typically takes a while for investigations to be completed, to determine with any certainty what really happened.

An investigation into the crash of PIA 8303 has been conducted for the past several weeks, and today Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Aviation, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, has revealed the interim findings of the investigation in a presentation to Parliament. Unfortunately this is getting quite political, and the findings are being disputed.

Pilots & ATC blamed for PIA crash

The PIA A320 crash is being blamed entirely on human error, with no technical aircraft faults having been found. According to the report, both pilots and air traffic controllers didn’t follow proper protocols, though a majority of the blame is being placed on pilots. According to the report:

  • The pilots exhibited “overconfidence and lack of concentration”
  • The pilots “ignored instructions of the air traffic controllers”
  • The air traffic controllers “did not inform the pilots about the engine colliding”
  • The pilots weren’t focused, as the black box reveals that “the pilots were discussing corona throughout the flight, they were not focused, they talked about corona and how their families were affected”
  • The pilots approached the airport three times as high as they should have, and ignored flight deck alarms
  • The pilots lowered the landing gear 10 miles before landing, then inexplicably raised it again about five miles before landing; the air traffic controllers told the pilots to abort their landing, but the pilots insisted on continuing
  • The engines dragged along the runway for several thousand feet, and then the plane lost engine power while climbing again
  • The last words from the pilots were “oh God, oh God, oh God”

These findings are more or less in line with what was initially believed based on flight data and ATC audio, so for many this won’t come as a surprise.

40% of PIA pilots have fake licenses

During the same presentation it was revealed that 40% of pilots at PIA were flying aircraft with fake licenses. These pilots weren’t given the exams themselves and didn’t have the proper flying experience.

As Pakistan’s Minister for Aviation explained, “pilots are also appointed on a political basis, unfortunately. Whilst appointing pilots, merit is ignored.”

The problem is that claims like this have literally been made for years. And if you’re the Minister for Aviation, shouldn’t it kind of be your job to make sure that doesn’t happen? According to the Minister for Aviation, now the government plans to “restructure” PIA and return it to it’s “days of glory.” Yeah, I’m sure it’ll happen this time around…

There’s controversy surrounding the findings

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Chairman of Pakistan’s Peoples Party, argues that pilots are being turned into scapegoats here, and that the Minister for Aviation should accept blame for the crash:

“Imran Khan used to say if there’s train crash the railway minister should be sacked; if there’s a plane crash the aviation minister should be sacked.

Now he blames the pilot and air traffic control for the PIA crash. Victim blaming and scapegoatism must end. We demand an independent inquiry. The minister must go.”

Meanwhile the Pakistan Air Lines Pilots Association (PALPA) is also disputing these findings, arguing that none of the four members of the Pakistani Air Accident Investigation Board were rated to fly the Airbus A320. A spokesperson said:

“We have no clue about it, we have not even seen the report. We have not at all been included in this, not even as a silent observer. None of [the investigators] are rated on this plane or know this plane.”

On the one hand, you’d think a pilot rated on the type of plane that crashed would be involved in the investigation. Furthermore, it’s ridiculous that apparently so many PIA pilots don’t have proper licenses.

On the other hand, it might be a bit of a stretch to suggest that a Minister for Aviation should be blamed if a plane crashes, while pilots are being turned into “scapegoats,” even if it’s pilot error.

Bottom line

It’s so tragic that nearly 100 people lost their lives in a PIA plane crash last month, which is the deadliest crash in the country in almost a decade. A preliminary report puts the blame squarely on human error, with the pilots being most at fault.

However, this is being disputed, with both the opposition party and pilots union suggesting the investigation wasn’t fair.

(Featured image courtesy of Anna Zvereva)

  1. As an Air Traffic Controller having read several articles regarding the preliminary report, I still don’t get what error(s) the Air Traffic Controller(s) are accused of. In the case of emergencies ATC is there to assist, all decisions on actions and such are made by the crew. From what I have heard the approach controller made several comments regarding the aircraft coming in way to high, offering additional trackmiles to loose altitude. I don’t really get what more they could have done.

    Regardless I think it’s sad to see all focus being on who to blame. The high safety level in international aviation is much thanks to just culture, which provides the ability to learn from accidents without directing blame. If I make a mistake – which we all do – I am encouraged to write a report, and recieve positive feedback and no blame from doing so. That’s the only way we call can learn from the mistakes that occur, and provide an even higher level of safety in the future.

  2. This is exactly what Trump and Republicans want to turn the US into. Zero trust in government and tons of blame to go around. Sad for the lost souls.

  3. @Matt
    The unjustified certification of the Boeing 737-MAX8 has happened due to the state of the FAA and the aviation business sector that Obama has left behind.
    Check the facts, don’t get led in the wrong direction by your feelings.

  4. Well knowing that 40% of PIA pilots have fake licenses, I definitely have no plans to fly that airline in the future.

  5. 40% of PIA pilots having fake licences is a shocking statistic. How has this airline not been banned from flying into the EU and elsewhere?

    With the aviation industry being devastated by COVID, this would be the perfect opportunity to purge the ranks at PIA. Pakistan is hopelessly corrupt so it’ll never happen of course.

  6. Oh my…. Rule number one of the aviation industry is NEVER BRING POLITICS into aviation (I’m looking at you *political* avgeeks in the OMAAT comment section as well). And why on earth would you want to fire the Minister of Aviation for a plane crash that could’ve been prevented? While 40% of the licenses in PIA are fake, the flight crew onboard the ill-fated flight seems to be super experienced. But it’s horrifying to see that they couldn’t maintain decorum throughout the flight and instead decided to speak about corona throughout the flight. And don’t get me wrong, but when a plane collides with the runway for at least 2-3 seconds, couldn’t the flight crew notice it? Heck, Passengers on board the plane or even the flight purser could’ve alerted the captain. Yes, the ATC controller is also a mistake here. Had the flight crew maintained decorum throughout the flight, this crash could’ve been averted and 100s of passengers could’ve reunited back with their families 🙁

  7. Without exception, government owned airlines are invariably milked by both politicians and unions at tax payer’s expense. Privatisation takes that away and forces accountability which no one wants. Thankfully, some airlines aren’t milked to an extent where safety is badly affected. Air India is probably an example of this combination.

  8. Forty percent of PIA pilots have fake licenses! Hopefully they only take off and land in Pakistan and not anywhere else.

  9. Maybe a silly question but why would it be the ATCs job to notify the pilots the engines hit the runway? How would they know? They’re not physically watching every plane which lands are they? Just the radar?

    Would a pilot feel a belly landing?

  10. @arcanum.. That is my question. Why is the EU, uk, and so many other countries allowing PIA labding rights? They’ve banned so many other carriers, so why not this basket case?

  11. Flew this trash once. 12 hours late out of FRA to Karachi, of course we missed connecting flight to Sri Lanka, so they put us up in a completely moldy 4* hotel in town, paid the first night, and then just forgot about us. ‘Pay yourselves!’ Fortunately we had some IATA lawyer in the group, who finally got us out of there after 4 nights. In Germany PIA stands for ‘Pünktlichkeit Ist Ausgeschlossen’, which loosely translated stands for ‘Never on time’.

  12. Matt what the hell does this have to do with Trump or the RNC. This occurred in Pakistan. Get your head out of your a..s !

  13. @ Ben ( Lucky)
    As a retired commercial airline pilot with a major US carrier, and having read numerous industry ( read non sensationalist press) reports of this accident as well as information from non public sources, I can say categorically say that this accident was far more than your description as a “human tragedy” . This was a CRIMINAL act. Meaning the piloting of this aircraft by both pilots was irresponsible , unprofessional and outright criminal behavior as the flight deck crew were responsible for those perished lives in their hands. End of story.

  14. @ Shawn – We don’t just watch the radar screen in the tower, in fact most of the controlling is visually out of the window. However, we cannot watch each aeroplane throughout its initial/final stages of flight as you will be dealing with departure sequencing, coordinating releases etc amongst other things and therefore it is outrageous that ATC is being blamed for not telling the pilot about the pod scrape. If there is evidence that ATC saw it and chose not to pass this info to pilot (again I don’t know why anyone would choose not to if witnessed) then fair enough. But the captain is ultimately responsible for flying the aeroplane. I’m seeing the ‘too high and fast’ on approach more and more and ATC will always offer more track miles but the pilot often insists its ok. Whether under pressure to prevent a missed approach or late arrival I don’t know. My training capt. friend says his company take unstable approaches extremely seriously. An unstable approach so should not proceed below 1000ft (often in SOPs). If ATC issued go-around instructions then the pilot should follow them, however, if there is an overriding reason not to, such as an emergency or low fuel then they can still elect to land but the pilot will be accountable.

  15. Many years ago, when I was an inexperienced international traveler on my first solo European lecture tour, I scheduled myself on PIA from Paris to Frankfurt because it departed mid-morning, unlike the LH and AF flights that were either early morning or evening.

    The DC-10 flew from New York overnight and then, after the Paris-Frankfurt leg, continued to Cairo, Khartoum, and Karachi.

    After I boarded, the sari-clad flight attendant seemed somewhat groggy — she had apparently worked the first leg from New York. She handed out orange juice boxes, but then took them away from the through passengers because they had already been fed breakfast.

    After we landed in Frankfurt, the aircraft continued to Cairo, Khartoum, and Karachi… with my luggage onboard! The PIA baggage rep told me they would send it to me, and I gave him my multi-stop itinerary. I argued him out of payment to cover toiletries and underwear.

    Of course, being inexperienced, my lecture slides and notes were in my luggage, so I had to make my subsequent presentations off the top of my head.

    My next stop was in Barcelona. I called PIA from there and was told the bag would be sent to my stop in Brussels and would be delivered to my hotel. That was seven days after it had gone on vacation to Pakistan.

    I arrived in Brussels, went to my hotel, and, of course, the bag wasn’t there. I had to go back to the airport to claim it. Fortunately, nothing was missing. I vowed never to fly PIA again.

    In those days, one couldn’t always fly from Point A to Point B every day, particularly in Asia and the South Pacific, so we became adept at studying the Official Airline Guide and planning our itineraries.

    Several years later, without asking me, my company’s travel agent changed my Beijing-Tokyo flight reservation from JAL to PIA, which I discovered the day before I left when the ticket was delivered to me.

    I canceled the ticket, rebooked with my own agent, and told my company to fire me if that wasn’t acceptable. I made enough of a stink that they changed their policy and allowed international travelers to book their own flights with their own agents.

  16. Some on here spending too much time watching the chattering skulls on cable tv. Is it possible for you to have a discussion about something without Trump popping into your head? Geez broaden your mind a little

  17. “On the one hand, you’d think a pilot rated on the type of plane that crashed would be involved in the investigation.”

    That bit is completely misleading and you should remove it. The original investigating board of four from the AAIB didn’t include any A320 pilots, but co-opted an additional eight including two A320 pilots and an A320 engineer for the purposes of the investigation; plus additional technical cooperation from Airbus.

  18. Unfortunately, in many countries nepotism and corruption are so endemic that it can cost lives. While I can’t verify that 40% of Pakistani pilots licences are fake it would not surprise me. There is a significant Pakistani diaspora in my country, and they are indeed over represented in a variety of financial crimes. This includes, but is not limited to tax fraud, fake employment contracts to circumvent min salary requirements for non-EU labour and working despite being on disability benefits.

    The vast majority of the Pakistani diaspora here are honest, decent people, but coming from a country with such a culture does show in the statistics.

  19. Ole and bruh, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Ole, it’s perfectly legitimate in the accident investigation business to assess fault (you call it “blame”), especially human error, where it is identified as a cause. Placing fault (or “blame” as you put it) is one of the main ways that fixes are put in place–to help prevent future accidents. bruh, you’re wrong in saying the ATC guy made a mistake; he did not. In fact the controller did everything he possibly could, except climb into the cockpit, to keep the plane safe, but his efforts were overcome by gross pilot incompetence. The accident had nothing to do with any lack of decorum as you put it but lack of skill and professionalism in conducting the approach. A corrupt and incompetent aviation ministry and government doesn’t help either.

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