By ASIF SHAHZAD, Associated Press
ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Pakistani government mandated Sunday that all airplanes operated by private airlines must undergo a new inspection to determine whether they are safe to fly, days after a crash near the capital killed 127 people.
The Bhoja Air crash Friday was the second in Pakistan in less than two years involving a private Pakistani airline. In both cases, the planes went down in bad weather as they approached the main airport in Islamabad.
The crashes have raised concerns about the safety of aviation in a country saddled by economic problems.
A passenger jet operated by a third private airline, Shaheen Air, faced potential disaster Sunday when its left tire burst as it touched down, said a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority, Pervez George. The pilot applied the emergency break, causing the landing gear to buckle and the left wing to scrape along the ground as the plane came to a halt. None of the more than 170 passengers was injured, said George.
The planes operated by private airlines will be inspected one by one, and any aircraft that fail will be grounded, Pakistani Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar told state TV. Planes currently in operation will be allowed to fly as they await inspection, he said.
The largest airline in the country is state-run Pakistan International Airlines, which has suffered from serious operational and financial problems. Pakistan also has a handful of private airlines that fly both domestic and international routes.
The airline involved in Friday's crash, Bhoja Air, only recently received a permit and began flying last month after it lost its license in 2001 because of financial difficulties.
It's still unclear what caused the Boeing 737-200 to crash in wheat farms about five kilometers (three miles) from Benazir Bhutto International Airport on Friday evening. It was arriving from the southern city of Karachi.
The violent storm that was lashing Islamabad when the plane went down has led some experts to speculate that "wind shear," sudden changes in wind speed or direction that can lift or smash an aircraft into the ground during landing, may have been a factor.
Some in the media and the government have suggested that the age of the aircraft may have been a factor. An industry website indicated the jet was 32 years old, not especially old for an aircraft, according to experts. Also, age by itself is rarely an important factor in crashes, they said.
Pakistan has barred the head of the airline, Farooq Bhoja, from leaving the country and has launched a criminal investigation into the crash, alongside the probe being conducted by aviation authorities.
Bhoja Air has declined to comment and said it would discuss the case after the investigation was complete.
The last major plane crash in the country — and Pakistan's worst — occurred in July 2010, when an Airbus A321 aircraft operated by domestic carrier Airblue crashed into the hills overlooking Islamabad, killing all 152 people aboard. A government investigation blamed the pilot for veering off course in stormy weather.
Dozens of mourners walked through the streets of Karachi on Sunday, carrying coffins holding victims of the Friday crash. One distraught young boy was comforted by a relative as he stood over his brother's wooden coffin, which was draped in a green cloth covered in Islamic prayers. Other mourners stopped to pray in the street during the funeral procession.
Associated Press writer Zarar Khan contributed to this report.
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