The crash in Rawalpindi of a Bhoja Airlines flight coming there from Karachi killed all on board the ill-fated plane, 127 people, including five crew members. However, while the entire nation tried to come to terms with the tragedy, a number of questions cropped up, which will not go away without satisfaction. It was perhaps inevitable that the crash would be measured against the crash of the AirBlue Airbus on July 28, 2010. The planes were flying on the same route, and were both attempting to land in Islamabad. Both were planes belonging to private airlines, and in the AirBlue crash too, all on board, all 152 people, were killed. Air travel is supposed to be safe, and there are supposed to be more chances of dying on the road than in a plane. Therefore, this recurrence of accidents cannot be acceptable. While an investigation will determine the reason for the crash, pilot error, structural defects or the weather, the question that immediately poses itself to the observer is that Bhoja Airlines had ceased operations, and only resumed them after political influence was used, not just to get the licence restored by the Civil Aviation Authority, though the Authority would not carry out the full battery of tests on the revived airline’s planes.

Bhoja Airlines had been one of the first private airlines of the country when it received its original licence, but it shut down operations in 2000, because of financial problems.  The economics of air flight are such that airlines do not look kindly on pilots who burn fuel by remaining in holding patterns, instead of taking positive action such as landing. Ever since fuel has become so much more expensive, airline pilots have found themselves under greater pressure than before. Unfortunately, this has meant a compromise on safety, especially when an airline is operating with an eye on the bottom line, after it has had a history of financial difficulty. It has also been noted, and deserves to be investigated further, that the plane itself was about 40 years old, and the Boeing 737-200 was banned for this reason in many countries.

Because of this, there are a number of avenues of investigation, and the greatest service that the present government can do for those killed is to make sure that the investigation is honest. If the grant of the licence to planes which were not airworthy was made, those responsible must be exposed, and it should be made impossible for there to be a recurrence. The government’s conduct of rescue operations under difficult conditions is no doubt creditable, but that is the beginning of its task. The tragedy happened, and it is up to the government to find out why it did, and to ensure that it does not recur in future. The government must make it clear that there will be no compromise on the safety of passengers. They must come first, ahead of the commercial interests that see safety measures as needless expenditures.