Pilots rusty after coronavirus lockdown could be factor in Pakistan plane crash, safety head says

BRUSSELS (BLOOMBERG) – Europe’s top aviation-safety official said that pilot rustiness following global groundings at the height of the coronavirus crisis may have been a factor in the fatal crash of a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane.

It’s reasonable to ask whether the tragedy of the Airbus SE A320 jetliner that hit a suburb of Karachi in May, killing all but two of the 99 people on board, would have happened without the Covid-19 pandemic, European Union Aviation Safety Agency executive director Patrick Ky said on Tuesday (Sept 15).

“The pilots did not seem to be as fluent in the way they were conducting their flights as they should have,” Mr Ky said in a media briefing arranged by the A4E association of European airlines.

“If you haven’t flown for three months, six months, you need to be retrained in some way in order to come back.”

Flight PK8303 initially touched down without deploying its landing gear, damaging the engines, which failed during a second landing attempt.

That led the jet to crash short of the airport.

The pilots were distracted by a conversation about the virus, according to initial information on the event.

Planes themselves also need extra attention to ensure that they’re airworthy after standing idle for a length of time, according to Mr Ky.

“From a safety perspective, we were concerned with the return to operations,” he said.

“An aircraft is not like a washing machine. You need to perform a certain number of tasks in order to ensure it is safe.”

With PIA barred by EASA from flying into Europe until the end of the year at least as a result of the crash and subsequent findings, British Airways will add flights to Pakistan with a four-times weekly service to Lahore, according to a British government statement on Tuesday.

The move comes after Virgin Atlantic Airways said last month it would serve Pakistan for the first time, with flights made viable by PIA’s exit and demand fuelled by the number of people of Pakistani origin living in Britain.

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