Global airlines initiate probe against Pakistani pilots

PIA moves to assuage concern over 'dubious' pilot licences

​ Our Correspondent June 28, 2020
PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD: After the revelation by Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan that 262 Pakistani pilots were holding fake or dubious licences, the international airlines have initiated probe against Pakistani employees.

According to the sources, Kuwait Air has grounded seven Pakistani pilots and 56 engineers, while Qatar Airways, Oman Air and Vietnam Airlines have compiled lists of Pakistani pilots, engineers and ground-handling staff. They said that the employees whose names are on the lists will remain grounded till a report is received from the Pakistani authorities.

The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has written to foreign missions and global regulatory and safety bodies, assuring them it has grounded all 141 pilots suspected of obtaining licences through unfair means, a spokesperson for the national flag carrier said here on Saturday.

The move aims at assuaging safety concerns after the aviation minister said earlier this week that the government had asked various commercial airlines, flying clubs and charter companies to ground a total of 262 pilots until investigations into their qualifications were completed.

The action was prompted by a preliminary report on the crash of a PIA aircraft in Karachi last month, which found pilots had failed to follow standard procedures. Global safety and transport bodies expressed concern over the alleged “dubious” licences and said they were looking into the matter.

The PIA spokesperson said the letter, signed by PIA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Arshad Malik, had been sent to all heads of foreign missions in Pakistan as well as international aviation regulators and safety monitoring agencies. Malik had also informed the aviation ministry about the flight safety measures.

“It is also ensured that pilots flying PIA flights are having genuine licences endorsed by the government of Pakistan and are in physical possession of the same during all domestic and international flights,” said a copy of the letter sent to the US Embassy in Islamabad, seen by Reuters.

The PIA flights cover a number of international routes, including the ones leading to the United States, Britain and Europe. The letter promised that the airline would remain compliant with all international aviation safety and regulatory standards.

The 262 pilots – 109 commercial and 153 airline transport pilots – were grounded on Friday, pending conclusion of inquiries against them. They included 141 from PIA, nine from Air Blue, 10 from Serene Airline, and 17 from Shaheen Airlines, which has closed down, Abdullah Khan said.

Senior office bearers of Pakistan Airline Pilots Association (PALPA), including its spokesperson Capt Qasim Qadir, was stated to be among them, along with Capt Yahya Sandhila, responsible for an incident that led to disclosure of the issue itself.

The aviation minister had said the move to ground the pilots would help allay global concerns and show that wrongdoing had been corrected. He added that five officials of the aviation authority were also suspended for abetting the suspected pilots.

Working holiday?

The investigations into pilots' qualifications began after a 2018 crash landing in which it was found that the test date on the licence of the pilot involved had been a holiday – suggesting it was fake as testing could not have taken place on that day. That led to 16 PIA pilots being grounded in early 2019.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requires pilots to pass all eight papers to become fully qualified, after completing at least 1,500 hours' commercial flying time. The minister had said 28 of the pilots had already been found to have obtained academic degrees illegitimately.

He said at least five top civil aviation officials had been suspended, and prosecutions were being considered against them and their aides in the information technology department. "Let me assure that the inquiries will be free and fair," the minister said.

(With additional input from Agencies.)

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