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From Bizarre Disappearances to Flight Bans, Controversies Mar Pakistan International Airlines

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MIA „Rosiya Segodnya“

2022

Aneela Rashid

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MIA „Rosiya Segodnya“

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MIA „Rosiya Segodnya“

pakistan, airline, aviation, columnists

pakistan, airline, aviation, columnists

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) was once known for its technical prowess and long flights to far off destinations, but in the past decade, the company has seen a decline in terms of both safety and finances. What is going on with PIA and its reputation in the aviation world?

A Pakistan Airlines flight attendant disappeared in Toronto in October this year, which marks the fourth such incident in less than five years.

In 2018, a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight attendant went “missing” during a layover in Toronto, and didn’t show up for the return flight. The same thing then happened in 2020 and 2021.

Pro Pakistani reported that the PIA crew had a layover in Toronto earlier last week: the crew reached Toronto on flight PK781 and during the layover in a hotel, a flight attendant named Yasir allegedly went missing. When contacted by the airline, Yasir told the officials that he was going to another city, at which point he became unreachable.

PIA’s general manager of flight services was informed and he announced that the authorities had launched an investigation into the matter and that action would be taken against the flight attendant. The Canadian authorities have also been informed.

When someone goes missing, the worst usually comes to mind. However, in Yasir’s case, it sounds like he simply had no intention of returning to Pakistan. It is believed that the previous flight attendants who went missing in Toronto also just chose to stay behind and start a new life in Canada.

Although what Yasir and others did is illegal and negatively impacts the reputation of the airline, there is no denying that PIA is going through a very tough time at the moment and it must not be easy working for it.

Check out the latest scandals and controversies surrounding the airline.

Yes to Panties, No to Naps!

In September, PIA released a memorandum telling both its male and female cabin crew members to ensure wearing “undergarments during off-duty hours.”

The advisory added that “casual dressing” during off hours leaves a poor impression on viewers and portrays a negative image of not only the individual, but also of the organization.

Needless to say, the memo went viral online, with some people poking fun at PIA and the absurdity of the instructions, as they were deemed “oddly specific.”

Have there honestly been multiple incidents that involve PIA crew members roaming around not wearing undergarments, and has it somehow reached the notice of the management?

As far as the airline’s crew is concerned, Pakistan International Airline (PIA) was ranked seventh in the list of Best Staff in South Asia in 2022, issued by Skytrax, a UK-based company that rates and reviews airlines.

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In another bizarre incident, a PIA pilot, identified as Captain Shahzad Aziz, found himself in a controversy after having invited a young Chinese woman into the cockpit during PIA Flight PK-853, according to a Geo News report.

The woman reportedly stayed in the cabin for about two hours and left only after landing. At some point, the woman was reportedly also alone with the pilot in the cockpit. As per aviation regulations, unauthorized persons are not allowed inside the cockpit during the flight, as it can endanger the lives of all the passengers. Naturally, the incident provoked some backlash against PIA.

The above incident occurred only two weeks after another PIA pilot was accused of taking a more-than-two-hour nap during an international flight!

A flight from Islamabad to London was left in the hands of a trainee pilot, while the senior pilot was photographed sleeping in first class, covered with a blanket.

Despite the evidence, PIA was reluctant to investigate the incident, but eventually suspended the sleepy pilot from flight duty.

Such incidents should not be taken lightly, as flight protocols are there for a reason and must not under any circumstances be ignored, especially when the airline does not have the “safest flights” track record.

Since 2000, Pakistan has witnessed 10 deadly air crashes, although not all of them were PIA aircraft.

PIA has had three major air crashes in the past decade. It has also faced a ban on flying to the US, UK, and the EU following a “fake licenses scandal.” The has airline faced a major debt crisis and hundreds of employees have had to be laid off.

Air Crashes & License Scandal

On December 7, 2016, a PIA ATR-42 aircraft crashed enroute from Chitral to Islamabad. The crash killed all 48 passengers and crew, including famous Pakistani singer Junaid Jamshed.

It was determined that the crash was due to human error, with no technical aircraft faults having been found upon investigation.

According to an aviation report, neither the pilots nor the air traffic controllers followed proper protocols, although most of the blame was placed on the pilots. Some points in the report suggested that the pilots had exhibited “overconfidence and lack of concentration” and that they “ignored instructions of the air traffic controllers.” The data from the black box allegedly revealed that “the pilots were discussing corona throughout the flight, they were not focused, they talked about corona and how their families were affected.”

Following the tragic incidents, which left the country in mourning and Pakistanis apprehensive of boarding a PIA plane, another report shook the country when it was revealed that nearly a third of Pakistani pilots had fake licenses.

In June 2020, Pakistan’s Minister for Aviation revealed that 262 of 860 pilots in Pakistan have “fake” licenses. That means about 30% of pilots in Pakistan shouldn’t actually be flying.

What exactly does it mean to have a “fake” license?

It means that these pilots didn’t pass the exams themselves, but rather paid someone else to take an exam for them. As the minister explained, “they don’t have flying experience.”

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He added that. “Pilots were also appointed on political basis, unfortunately merit was ignored while appointing pilots.”

Considering that PIA is Pakistan’s largest airline and operates a fleet of 30 aircraft, the report was disturbing for many.

At the time, PIA was operating nearly 100 flights daily, servicing 18 domestic and 25 international destinations across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North America.

Following the “fake license” scandal on June 30, 2020, PIA was banned from flying in European airspace initially for six months, starting on July 1, 2020 and then indefinitely after European Union Aviation Safety felt that the airline was not capable of overseeing and certifying its operators in accordance with international standards.

By July 9, 2020, the airline was also banned by the United Kingdom and the United States.

The ban on the carrier has entered its third year now, and as of October 2022, has not been lifted.

Aviation Glory Days

Last week, officials of Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) were in Brussels to meet with representatives of the European Union Aviation Safety (EASA) and European Commission (EC) to explore the possibility of resuming PIA flights to Europe.

The bottom line is that much needs to be improved at PIA for it to go back to its glory days.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, PIA was known for big achievements, such as: Captain Abdullah Baig, who flew from London to Karachi and established a world record for speed over a commercial airline route of 938.78 km/h (582.98 mph), a record which still holds to this day.

PIA was also the first airline of a non-communist country to fly to the People’s Republic of China, and in 1964 it was PIA that became the first non-Soviet airline offering flights to Europe via Moscow.

Furthermore, PIA used to provide technical and administrative assistance or leased aircraft to foreign airlines, including Air China, Air Malta, Choson Minhang, Philippine Airlines, Somali Airlines, and Yemenia.

Pakistan International Airlines also played a significant role in establishing the UAE’s Emirates airline in 1985 by providing technical and administrative assistance to the new carrier as well as leasing a new Boeing 737–300 and an Airbus A300B4-200.

If PIA was capable of such feats back then, with the right management and zero corruption tolerance, it may one day become great again.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Sputnik.



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Mobilising Assam’s ‘hargila army’: how 10,000 women saved India’s rarest stork | Global development

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On a cool December afternoon a group of women dressed in brightly coloured mekhela chadors (Assam’s traditional handwoven clothing) sit in a circle on the grass at the Bhokha Beel wetlands, singing and clapping.

Some of the women are wearing papier-mache headdresses shaped like long-necked birds. As they sing, one of them gets to her feet and starts dancing.

They are part of the “hargila army”, a group of rural women in the Indian state of Assam who work to protect one of the world’s rarest storks: the greater adjutant (Leptoptilos dubius) – or hargila (meaning “bone swallower” in Assamese) as the scavenger bird is known locally. They are celebrating the recent UN Environment Programme’s Champions of the Earth award, conferred on the group’s biologist founder, Dr Purnima Devi Barman.

A greater adjutant stork

Barman won the award for her achievement in mobilising more than 10,000 women to help save the stork. “They are the protectors of the birds and of their nesting trees,” says Barman, referring to the band of homemakers turned conservationists.

The greater adjutant, a member of the stork family that can grow up to 1.5 metres (5ft) tall, was once abundant across south Asia. But its distinctive features – a featherless head, dangling gular (throat) pouch, striking pale eyes and long skinny legs – and its foul-smelling droppings and dietary preference for carrion – won it few fans.

The birds were not just reviled, they were seen as a bad omen and carriers of disease. Villagers attacked them with stones, cut down trees where they roosted communally and burned their nests.

Today the greater adjutant is endangered, with fewer than 1,200 adult birds in its last strongholds – the Indian states of Assam and Bihar, and Cambodia. Most of the global population is found in Assam, making Barman and the hargila army’s work critical to its survival.

Barman grew up in a village on the Brahmaputra, a river that flows for 2,500 miles through Tibet, north-east India and Bangladesh. As a child, she learned about Assam’s wildlife from her grandmother, who took her into the paddy fields where she worked and taught her about local birdlife. “She didn’t know how to write but she had a feeling for nature and taught me lots of songs and stories about the birds,” says Barman.

Barman and members of the 10,000-strong hargila army sing and dance to traditional songs.

Her love of the natural world stayed with her. She gained a first degree and a master’s in zoology and was about to embark on a PhD on the greater adjutant when a contact phoned to tell her that a villager in Dadara had cut down a kadam (burflower) nesting tree in his yard.

When she arrived at the site she was appalled to find the ground littered with nests and dead or injured chicks. “It was my mothering instinct. I wanted to do something to protect these innocent creatures,” says Barman, whose twin girls were two at the time.

Barman began teaching the villagers about the birds’ importance as “nature’s cleaning crew”, and why nesting trees should not be cut down. In response, she was taunted and asked to clean the foul-smelling mess herself. The hostility she faced made her realise that to save the bird, she first needed to change the community’s attitude to it.

Purnima Devi Barman with a lifesize cutout of a greater adjutant stork
Badge worn by hargila army members
A sign in Dadara village shows the partnership of the hargila army with the state forest department and the district administration and police

She delayed her PhD and set to work: she organised public meetings where she honoured the owners of trees, mostly men, instilling in them a sense of pride in their role as guardians. The tactic paid off. “Not a single nesting tree has been cut down since 2010,” she says.

But it was the women who Barman believed held the key to sustainable and community-led conservation. The problem was they were confined to their homes and household chores. So Barman found creative ways to bring them out where she could talk to them. She began organising cooking competitions of traditional sweets and snacks, where she befriended the women and talked about the birds.

A primary school student with a greater adjutant poster

She tapped into the women’s nurturing side by organising “baby showers” during the storks’ breeding season, inspired by a Hindu ritual for expectant human mothers, and “happy hatching” ceremonies to commemorate the arrival of the chicks. Slowly but surely, the women began to accept the birds as part of their world.

By 2014, the conservation movement had gathered momentum and the hargila army was born. “Conservation is all about uniting people and building ownership,” says Barman. “I’ve always believed that, if given a chance, women can make a big difference in conservation.”

Today, the once-maligned bird is now a cultural symbol, appearing on everything from towels to road-safety campaigns.

In the villages of Dadara, Pacharia and Singimari (all in Kamrup district), greater adjutants’ nests have increased from 28 in 2010 to more than 250 according to Barman’s last count, making the area the world’s largest breeding colony. “We now have more than 1,000 hargila birds in Assam,” says Barman, referring to recent but unpublished data collected by her team.

The conservation efforts have also transformed the lives of the women, who now go into other villages to raise awareness of the birds. “Joining the hargila army gave me a chance to show everyone that I could do something meaningful with my life,” says Daivaki Saikia, a young widow from Dadara’s marginalised fishing community, who has been a member for five years.

The UN award was for Barman’s “entrepreneurial vision” in using conservation to improve women’s economic status. Assam has a rich tradition of weaving, so Barman secured funding for 30 looms and provided training in weaving the hargila motif into fabrics, providing women with an independent income. Eighty women were also given sewing machines to make bags, cushion covers and other items from the handwoven fabrics.

Mamoni Malakar, a Hargila Army member paints a henna tattoo of the hargila on Purnima Devi Barman’s palm.

In 2021, Barman established the Hargila Learning and Conservation Centre in a government school in Pacharia village, where hargila army members use songs, art and games to encourage children to protect the birds.

Juggling her job as a biologist at Aaranyak, a wildlife non-profit organisation based in the city of Guwahati, Barman continues to help preserve the hargila. In February the hargila army begins its work in the districts of Morigaon and Nagaon, with further expansion planned for Assam.

She also hopes to set up a nursery for kadam trees that can be distributed to those who want to plant them in their gardens (45,000 saplings have already been handed out). “This will help improve the back-yard biodiversity,” says Barman.

Barman’s unwavering dedication has been recognised in India and internationally. Last year she was named World Female Ranger and in 2017, she received the prestigious Whitley award, known as the “Green Oscars”, as well as India’s highest civilian honour for women – the Nari Shakti Puraskar.

Hargila army member Sarawasti Das is weaving a mekhela chador set with the hargila motif

But Barman refuses to rest on her laurels. No opportunity to advocate for the bird is missed. “My intention is to involve everyone,” she says. “If people are concerned about the conservation of the hargila and its habitat, it will help other species as well.”

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Video | The 10 deadliest earthquakes of the 21st century | International

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The death toll from the Syria and Turkey earthquake rose Wednesday to more than 11,000, making it the deadliest quake worldwide in more than a decade and one of the 10 most lethal earthquakes of the 21st century.

In this video, EL PAÍS reviews, in chronological order, the quakes that have caused the largest loss of life since 2001. The list includes the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which killed 250,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless, as well as the 2004 quake that hit the Indonesian province of Aceh, triggering a tsunami that killed nearly 230,000.

Other major natural disasters include the 2003 earthquake in Iran, the 2015 earthquake in Nepal and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan, killing 15,690 people. The video shows the devastating impact of these natural disasters. Earthquakes take an especially hard toll on countries that are ill-prepared to face an emergency of such scale. Japan and Chile, for example, have been hit by stronger quakes, but recorded fewer fatalities thanks to anti-seismic building norms.

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Uganda condemned for ‘shameful’ decision to close UN human rights office | Global development

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Rights activists and campaigners have condemned the Ugandan government’s decision to shut down the country’s UN human rights office, describing it as “shameful”.

In a letter to the Office of the UN high commissioner for human rights (OHCHR) in Uganda dated 3 February, the foreign affairs ministry said it will not renew the host country agreement it signed with the OHCHR, which established its initial mandate in the country in 2005. The current mandate, signed on 9 February 2020, expires in August.

“The government of Uganda will now continue its cooperation with the OHCHR Headquarters either directly or through its Permanent Mission in Geneva,” reads the letter.

The development comes less than three months after the UN’s committee against torture adopted the concluding observations on Uganda, which raised concerns that torture and ill-treatment continued to be frequently practised, and called for investigation and prosecution of security officials accused of excessive use of force, violence and arbitrary detention.

“The closure of the @UNHumanRightsUG office proves that [the] government has lost all sense of shame. It no longer wants any close international scrutiny of its human rights record,” tweeted Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum.

“If the protectors are sent away, what then happens to those they were protecting? We are headed for tough times,” he added.

Adrian Jjuuko, (speaking, centre left) executive director of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, has condemned the OHCHR closure.
Adrian Jjuuko, (speaking, centre left) executive director of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, has condemned the OHCHR closure. Photograph: Alice McCool

Bobi Wine, the reggae singer turned Ugandan opposition leader, whose supporters remain in unauthorised places of detention or “safe houses”, said it was no surprise that Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, has closed the OHCHR. He tweeted: “In the face of growing international condemnation and isolation, tyrant Museveni has responded by shutting down NGOs, Facebook, DGF [Democratic Governance Facility] & declaring several internationals Persona Non-Grata or deporting them! Now he shuts down @UNHumanRightsUG.”

Wine added: “You’ll recall in the aftermath of the 2021 election and the hundreds killed or abducted by the Museveni regime, we petitioned the UN Human Rights Office & the military brutalised journalists right there. This UN Office condemned these actions. Not surprising it’s being closed.”

Human right activists and advocacy groups have called the decision a “mockery” and accused the government of running from international scrutiny on abuse and protection of human rights.

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“This is unbelievable, and the reasons given by the government are a mockery of the real state of human rights in the country,” said Jjuuko. “To claim that Uganda no longer needs the office [OHCHR] because of its strong stand for human rights is ironic to say the least.

“A strong stand for human rights would imply opening up to the UN and other actors.”

David Livingstone Sewanyana, founder of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative in the capital, Kampala, told the Guardian, “The decision not to renew the mandate deprives Uganda of a critical player in the field of human rights promotion and protection.”

At least 38 local and international staff at the head office in Kampala and two field offices in Gulu and Moroto stand to lose their jobs.

Jjuuko said: “Following closely on the closure of the DGF, this is a scary move which indicates that the government is no longer willing to have its human rights record scrutinised by international actors.

“This leaves local organisations at much more risk of being further silenced and their work curtailed without the government fearing close international security. It is a sad day indeed for the human rights movement in Uganda.”



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