150 PIA pilots grounded after claims they ‘hold fake licences’

Pakistan International Airways. Editorial credit: Abdul N Quraishi - Abs

Pakistan International Airlines has grounded 150 pilots over claims they may not hold a valid licence.

Pakistan’s Aviation Minister told parliament on Wednesday that a large number of commercial pilots hold fake licences or cheated in exams.

It comes as an initial report into a PIA crash that killed 97 people last month found the cause to be human error by the pilot and air traffic control.

Aviation minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan shared the findings of an initial report into May’s crash on Wednesday, but also referred to a wider government probe which had been launched after a different crash.

Following the 2018 crash, it was discovered that the test date on the pilot’s licence was a public holiday, suggesting that testing could not have taken place on that day.

Mr Khan said investigations had found that more than 260 of the country’s 860 active pilots had either fake licences or had cheated in their exams.

The International Air Transport Association said the irregularities found in pilot licences at the airline represent a “serious lapse” in safety controls.

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Since 1965, PIA has suffered 10 major crashes and several minor incidents. Inquiries have been held but they don’t seem to have led to any improvements.

Over the years, both the PIA and the Civil Aviation Authority have come to be dominated by serving or retired officers of the Pakistan Air Force, prompting some to call it the retirement home for the military.

Mr Khan also vowed that PIA, a state-owned airline would be restructured and vowed that action would be taken against rogue pilots.

On Wednesday, the Aviation Minister also gave more details on the preliminary report into a PIA plane crash on May 22. Flight PK8303 came down on houses in Karachi. Only two passengers survived.

Mr Khan told parliament that the pilot and air traffic control failed to follow protocol. The pilots were distracted, talking about coronavirus with each other as both of their families had been affected by the virus.

He said there was nothing wrong with the Airbus A320 aircraft, which had taken off from Lahore and was attempting to land in Karachi.

Mr Khan said the pilot initially failed to deploy the landing gear correctly, which led to the aircraft scraping the runway before then taking off again. As the plane was about to make a second landing, air traffic controllers failed to tell the pilot that the plane’s engines had been left badly damaged.

“When the control tower asked him to increase the plane’s height, the pilot said ‘I’ll manage’. There was over-confidence,” Mr Khan said.

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