Pakistani pilots are facing a tricky situation over ‘dubious’ licences

Staff Report

Islamabad: Credibility of Pakistani pilots working around the world is now at stake, following reports of “dubious” flying licences issued to many of them . The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has also expressed concern over serious lapses in licensing and safety oversight by the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA).

The latest controversy over pilots’ authentication began with the crash of a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) passenger plane in Karachi on May 22, 2020, that killed 97.

262 ‘fake’ pilots

Pakistani pilots working in their country and with different other airlines around the world have come under the scanner after a startling revelation by Pakistan’s Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan regarding a racket for “fake” flying licences in the country. He said on the floor of the parliament at that close to 40 per cent (around 262) active pilots in Pakistan held “dubious” flying licences.

The 262 pilots — 109 commercial and 153 transport pilots — were grounded pending conclusion of inquiries against them.

He disclosed this information as part of the preliminary inquiry report into the PIA plane crash in Karachi on May 22. He held that pilots of the ill-fated plane and those manning the air traffic control tower in Karachi were responsible for the fatal crash.

Suicidal attack

The aviation minister’s statements proved to be a suicidal attack on his own ministry as the global community has not only been banning the PIA from operating flights within their airspace, but has also been barring Pakistani pilots from flying planes abroad.

Worldwide impact

Following the minister’s report, PIA grounded 141 pilots with suspected licences, which raised many an eyebrow.

European Union Air Safety Agency (EASA) barred Pakistan pilots from flying to 32 European countries and also suspended PIA’s authorisation to operate in EU member-states for six months with effect from July 1.

Earlier this month, Vietnam also grounded 27 Pakistani pilots, causing further embarrassment, while several Gulf countries have written to the PCAA demanding authentication of licences of Pakistani pilots flying their planes in different Arab countries.

Aviation experts termed the report about dubious licences as alarming for the future of Pakistani pilots. They said the credentials of the pilots should be thoroughly scrutinised and all necessary steps taken to restore the confidence in Pakistani pilots and airlines internationally.

PCAA under scanner

The expert also raised questions about the credibility of PCAA, which is responsible for issuing licences. “Why is regulatory authority not checking the licences, which are required to be renewed every six months,” questioned a pilot without disclosing his name.

Khan also ensured to initiate criminal proceedings against the Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) officials involved in issuing dubious licences as their cases were being sent to Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

Pakistan is currently verifying credentials of Pakistani pilots serving with other airlines in Malaysia, Gulf countries and Vietnam, and only those who will be certified would be allowed to fly.

‘Full of discrepancies’

Meanwhile, Pakistani pilots and their union have raised questions about the government’s claims of 262 pilots with ‘dubious’ credentials, saying it was full of discrepancies. “It contains names of highly educated and qualified pilots who have passed all the tests,” Chaudhry Salman, president of Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (Palpa) said after the minister’s allegations.

The Palpa president said that the list issued by the government was baseless. He said that the aviation minister raised the issue because he wanted to divert attention from the May 22 air crash in Karachi.

He pointed out that the minister’s allegations had put the jobs of Pakistani pilots working across the world at risk.

When it all began

The investigations into pilots’ qualifications began after the 2018 crash-landing of a PIA plane on a domestic route. It was found that the test date on the licence of the pilot involved was 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 PCAA requires pilots to pass all eight papers to become eligible to fly.

What industry experts say

To understand the whole scenario, the process of pilot licensing and the consequences on Pakistan’s aviation industry, Gulf News spoke to leading experts in Pakistan.

How are ‘fake or dubious’ licences being checked now?

Captain Ghazanfar Ali, who has 34 years of experience with Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and more than 16 years of experience with a commercial airline, says when a pilot joins a flying school, he/she is issued a Student Pilot Licence (SPL), and is assigned a PCAA-reference number. “This reference number contains the record of all the certificates, exams, flying hours of the pilot.” This is how PCAA is now verifying pilots’ credentials in keeping with international aviation laws. Following the controversy, “CAA requested for this data from our flying school, which we have already sent”, he said.

Pilots fear they are being made the scapegoat

A senior aviation expert with more than 50 years of experience, Anthony Chaudhry, deems the issue “has been handled poorly without proper investigation”. He fears that the jobs of “Pakistani pilots working in foreign airlines are in jeopardy now” because of the crisis. The appropriate way would be to resolve the issue internally to take the “black swans” into account.