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Reviewing the crash of Air Blue Flight ABQ-202, Airbus A321 Reg AP-BJB‏

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On the 24th of April 2012, a few days after the fatal accident of Bhoja Air's Boeing 732, I find out that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of Pakistan has long released the investigation report of Air Blue's flight ABQ-202. As previously thought of by the people of Pakistan (that have no understanding of the word patience), that the Air Blue disaster was not investigated properly and that the Government of Pakistan should do something about it. Although I agree that the CAA has previously shown a lack in cooperation and satisfaction of the people of Pakistan, I would like to say that; the investigation of an air disaster can take from 5 months, to 50 years, depending on the availability of sources and machinery, as well as the required, trained investigators in the team. So, to question the time taken and the validity of the report of the crash is totally unacceptable. But considering Pakistan is a country where it is now a habit of the general public to 'name and shame', I guess this is nothing 'major'.

The accident in question took place on the 28th of July, 2010 at 04:41AM. It is worth noting that it has not yet been 2 years since the disaster, and the official accident report is out not prepared by the NTSB* or the AAIB*, but the CAA itself. So well done to them for executing this very difficult task amid growing concerns of the reliability of this organisation. Several questions arose when the crash happened. Was the aircraft too old to operate? Were the Captain and the First Officer qualified enough to fly? Is the Air Traffic Controller (ATC) to blame? Well, none of the above. According to the report published by the CAA, the aircraft was safe and certified to fly.

The aircraft was only 8 years old at the time of the crash, and was previously flown by Aero Lloyd and Aero Flight. Its certificate of Airworthiness was not up for renewal, and a detailed inspection was carried out just before the flight, on the 28th of July 2010.

The next question that arises is, were the Captain and the First Officer qualified to fly? Yes indeed they were. Flight 202 was flown by Captain Pervez Iqbal Chaudhary and First Officer (also an Air Force Sqd Leader) Mutajib Ahmed. Both pilots had enough flying experience, both total and on this specific aircraft, to be certified to fly.

Now that this has been established, the ATC remains. Does this mean that the fault lies with the ATC? The answer to that is no. The ATC controller had given the pilot a clear instruction on how to execute the landing, but seemingly, the pilot ignored that.

As the report outlines, the landing procedure in place at that time was 'ILS Runway 30, Circle to land Runway 12'. This means, that the aircraft had to establish itself on the 'Instrument Landing System' (or ILS), continue its descent until the pilot has the runway in sight, then 'circle' the runway to land on the opposite side. This procedure is usually conducted if there is strong tailwind, and landing on Runway 30 would not be suitable. Also, it should be noted that this is ONLY allowed if the conditions are suitable to conduct a VFR, or 'Visual Flight Rules'. The pilot has to establish a visual with the runway, and not lose sight of the runway; otherwise he HAS to conduct a 'missed approach'. This means that the conditions were perfectly suitable to execute this landing.

In the case of this particular flight, upon establishing itself on the ILS, the pilot requested for a RIGHT downwind, twice. Both times, his request was refused. This was due to procedural and weather limitations. The weather on the right hand downwind was not suitable for a VFR below 2000 ft MSL. The Captain was also worried about the conditions on the left hand downwind.

So, the Captain started executing a left hand downwind landing. He was cleared down to 2,500 ft, and was going to start descent to 2000ft, but the FO reminded him of 2500ft MDA.

Another thing that put the Captain 'off' and got him into excessive, unneeded pressure was the information that another flight had just landed in the same conditions, using the same pathway. This meant that if he did not land, would mean that future passengers would question the skills of the pilots of the airline, and maybe put them off from flying with Air Blue. Although another aircraft; China Southern Airlines, diverted and went back to China, but since the aircraft that landed was a Pakistani airline, the pilot was concerned.

So it has been established that the Captain was under a lot of stress and pressure to land the aircraft. That could be one of the reasons as to why this crash occurred, as a lot of previous air disasters have shown pressure from the airline and rules & regulations to be the reason. (Note that there is no record as yet of the Airline pressurizing the pilots to complete the flight even if the weather conditions make landing chances slim)Another question that arises is the First Officer. Why is he not mentioned? Could he be the one at fault? Well clearly not. He was continuously being scolded by the (64 year old) captain. The Captain 'used harsh words and snobbish tone, contrary to the company procedures/norms.' This meant that the FO's confidence decreased, and he was unable to correct the Captain during crucial moments of the flight.

Futhermore, the Captain repeatedly ignored requests from ATC. At one point though, he acknowledged that he has a visual of the runway, when in fact he was heading straight into the margalla.

Then, who is to blame? The CAPTAIN is!!!

Why? Because of several reasons:

1. Snobbishness, using harsh words towards a 'trainee'

2. Being over confident

3. Ignoring repeated calls from the ATC

4. Acknowledging and 'lying' to ATC about having a visual of the Runway.

5. Violating height minima of 2,500ft and descending to 2,300 while on a Visual

6. Ignoring continuous warnings of 'Terrain Ahead'.

7. Failing to realize that the aircraft when heading is fed into the autopilot controls

My ending note here would be a comparison of this crash to some previous ones; and some factors NOT mentioned in the report. Firstly, the First Officer DID NOT respond to the Captains repeated insults and harsh 'lectures'. This is a similar case to what happened to Korean Air Flight 801. The First Officer did not question the Captains decision and let him do as he wished. This is not something that is taught in the airline industry, but instead is something deeply rooted in our culture. Why is it that we, when we feel something is wrong, not question the 'elder', in this case the Captain? I am not saying that talking back and questioning elders should be something we should start doing; in fact it is something our younger generation needs to learn more. What I mean is when you are in the position of the First Officer of this flight, the age and experience should NOT matter. Yes he is your teacher, but as a student you have EVERY right to question the teacher, to either gain a better understanding, or the make the 'teacher' rectify their mistake.

Another aircraft that ended in disaster was KLM Flight 4805. This time, it was not the inability of the First Officer to question the pilot, but the pilots pride and snobbishness that led him to ignore ATC calls, and cause one of the worst air crashes in aviation history.

I just hope this crash serves as a lesson to all pilots, especially Captains, across the world; that whatever the reason is, do not take pride whilst in the Captains Seat.'If the black box flight recorder is never damaged during a plane crash, why isn't the whole airplane made out of the stuff?'

Disclaimer: I do not, in any way represent any organisations, companies or agencies. I am an independent analyst focusing on the developments in the global aviation industry. I commend the work of the CAA in this investigation, and do not at any point disregard the services and the capabilities of Air Blue.

1. NTSB = National Transportation Safety Board; America

2. AAIB = Air Accidents Investigation Branch; United Kingdom

3. Although I am still not completely under the trust of CAA of Pakistan, I still commend their work in investigating this particular crash.

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