In the wake of the Pakistani International Airlines (PIA) A320 crash near Karachi in late May, which killed 97 people comes the revelation that more than 30% of civilian pilots in Pakistan have fake licences.
Last week the country’s aviation minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said 262 pilots in the country did not take the appropriate exams themselves and that they had paid someone else to sit on their behalf. ‘They don’t have flying experience,’ he said.
Pakistan has 860 active pilots flying domestically including those with the flag-carrier PIA. A spokesperson said that an investigation carried out a result of an earlier accident in 2018 had discovered that about 150 of its 434 pilots has bogus or suspicious licences. The airline has said it has grounded all its pilots who hold fake licences.
The scandal doesn’t’ merely affect Pakistani airlines but also pilots who fly for foreign operators. Amongst many others, this includes 27 working for Vietnamese airlines who have been suspended from duties. That country’s civil aviation authority is also investigating if third-nation pilots obtained qualifications in Pakistan.
Given the circumstances surrounding the accident last month, there are serious suspicions about the qualifications of the pilots on that flight. It appears the pilots were told three times by ATC that the aircraft was too high. Fatally, the pilots tried to land without extending the landing gear, scraped the runway and subsequently crashed.
Both the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) and that of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA) are concerned about the quality of the investigation and have emphasised the need for confidentiality, thoroughness and independence.
In light of both the accident and the investigations, the Pakistan Air Line Pilots Association will be asked difficult questions. Both the future of Pakistani commercial aviation, PIA and much more significantly the lives of passengers entrusted to the care of those organisations are at stake.