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Dubious licence scandal: airline to ground about 150 pilots

June 30, 2020 Headline News No Comments Email Email

An international airline is preparing to ground about 150 pilots suspected of carrying “either bogus or suspicious” flying licences, as it investigates the deadly crash of one of its airliners.

More than 30% of civilian pilots in Pakistan have fake licences and are not qualified to fly, the country’s aviation minister has revealed.

Pakistan’s Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan told the country’s parliament that there were 860 active pilots in the country working with domestic commercial airlines – including the national carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

In a shock disclosure, Khan said that 262 of the pilots “did not take the exam themselves” to get their pilot’s licence and instead paid someone else to sit the exam on their behalf.

Some of the pilots “don’t have even flying experience”, Khan stated, according to a report on VOA news service.

More than one-third of pilots working for PIA could lose their jobs over the cheating scandal.

About 150 of PIA’s 434 pilots were carrying “either bogus or suspicious licences,” PIA spokesman Hafeez Khan told the AFP news agency on Thursday.

“We have decided to ground those 150 pilots with bogus licences with immediate effect,” he added.

Investigators will also probe allegations that officials of Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) were bribed to keep the licence scam quiet, a report carried by Germany’s news and current affairs channel Deutsche Welle (DW) said.

News of the scandal broke last week when aviation minister Khan presented the results of an investigation into the deadly crash of one of the airline’s A320s in Karachi last month.

The PIA plane, operating a domestic flight from Lahore, crashed into a residential neighbourhood while trying to land at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport, killing 97 of the 98 people aboard (91 passengers and eight crew), plus a 12-year-old girl on the ground.

The “black box” flight voice recorder was recovered. It reveals that the pilots were chatting about the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic and their infected family members, rather than concentrating on the landing. A reported conversation between the pilot and air traffic control shortly before the crash indicated the pilot made a “Mayday” emergency call, and air traffic control cleared two runways at the airport for the landing.

Before that, the pilots’ first attempt at landing failed. The plane is said to have approached too fast, with the pilots apparently forgetting to put the plane’s landing wheels down. Air traffic control did not notice the plane had not put its landing gear down and, it seems, neither did the pilots. As a result, the aircraft grazed the runway surface on its engines before taking off again for another try at landing.

Air traffic control failed to tell the pilots that the plane sustained damage when its engines scraped the runway.

During the second attempt at landing, which ended in the fatal crash, the pilot controlling the landing reportedly refused to heed warnings that the plane was too low, insisting that he would manage it. The pilot then radioed he had lost power in both engines, making a repeated Mayday emergency call. The pilot’s last words were “Ya Allah”, “Ya Allah”, “Ya Allah” [meaning “Oh God”].

There is no suggestion the pilots of the doomed airliner were unqualified to fly or were involved in any of the licensing practices being investigated. Damage to the engines from the runway strike during the first landing attempt may have contributed to the crash.

Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is seeking more information on pilot licensing in Pakistan.

“We are following reports from Pakistan regarding fake pilot licences, which are concerning and represent a serious lapse in the licensing and safety oversight,” a spokesman said.

PIA’s corporate motto is: “Great people to fly with”.

Written by Peter Needham

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