After an unfortunate near-miss in Iranian airspace involving two Pakistani passenger aircraft, a probe by Pakistan International Airlines claims that it was the fault of the air traffic controllers on duty. As the incident occurred in its airspace and an inquiry has already been made, the Civil Aviation Organization of the Islamic Republic of Iran (CAO) confirms it will take over the investigation.
Separated by a thousand feet
The high-altitude incident happened on July 24th, involving a Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A320-200, registered as AP-BLW. Operating as PK 286 from Doha to Peshawar, the aircraft was en route at 36,000 feet about 170 nautical miles northeast of Dubai In Iranian airspace. At this time, Iranian air traffic controllers cleared PK 268 to descend to 20,000 feet. However, another Pakistan International Airlines aircraft was also within the Iranian airspace, a Boeing 777-200 with the registration of AP-BGJ.
Operating as flight PK 211 from Islamabad to Dubai, the aircraft cruised below the narrowbody at 35,000 feet about 160 nautical miles northeast of Dubai. When PK 268 slowly descended into the widebody’s flight trajectory, both aircraft were issued individual Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) resolution warnings. PK 268 was advised by TCAS to ascend, and PK 211 was advised to descend. ADS-B data showed that PK 268 climbed to 36,300 feet, and PK 211 temporarily dropped to 34,600 feet.
A spokesperson for the Pakistani flag carrier, Abdullah Hafeez Khan, commented:
“A cockpit collision avoidance system helped the two pilots to correct the course and avoid a collision after the planes came close to each other. We will write to Iranian authorities to investigate the incident as the air traffic controller should not have cleared the Peshawar-bound flight to descend. “
Until the 1970s, Pakistan International Airlines was considered a leading national carrier, but its reputation plummeted amid chronic mismanagement, frequent cancellations, financial conditions, and a spotty safety record. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia Commons
Launching an investigation
In response to the probe, CAO Deputy Head Hassan Khoshkhoo highlights that such incidences are not unique to Iranian airspace and have also happened in other countries. In current cases, modern aircraft have been equipped with TCAS to give the necessary warnings from a long distance, so such incidences are also hardly reported in other countries.
Nonetheless, Khoshkhoo gave the reassurance that the organization had already launched an investigation into the near-miss. He said:
“Appropriate measures have been taken to obtain documents of the country’s control center, and we requested reports from the pilots of the planes for further investigation. Normally, after receiving all the documents, the issue is reviewed, and the final result is announced.”
Sketchy safety records
While the initial claim seems like a clear-cut human effort on the part of the Iranian air traffic controllers, Pakistan International Airlines haven’t exactly had the cleanest safety record either. Up until the 1970s, the flag carrier was considered one of the world’s leading before its reputation plummeted due to a mix of corruption, poor punctuality, and a spotty safety record.
The most recent happened two years ago when an Airbus A320, registered as AP-BLD and operating as PK 8303, crashed after a failed landing. Another doubtful accident that put the airline’s safety record under scrutiny happened back in 2006 when the airline’s turboprop, registered as AP-BAL and operating as PK 688, crashed shortly after take-off. Then there was the crash of PK 661 in 2016, involving yet another turboprop registered as AP-BHO. In all three accidents, human error was quite the prominent contributing factor ranging from the actions in the cockpit to the efforts of the maintenance crew.
PK 661 suffered an engine failure due to a maintenance error, ultimately leading to a loss of control and a fateful crash. Photo: Asuspine via Wikimedia Commons
However, sanctions-hit Iran had its fair share of aviation accidents in recent years, accumulating more than 10 fatal accidents. The most recent happened in January 2020, when Ukraine International Airlines flight PS 752 was shot down by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps shortly After take-off. Regarding the unfortunate accident, while it was undoubted that air traffic control played a contributory role, the CAO said the misaligned radar was the primary human error behind the tragedy. Hopefully, once the CAO releases its full findings for the incident between the two Pakistani aircraft, such near-misses can be better avoided, and the airspace can be much safer for everyone.
Source: Pakistan Today