ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s national carrier said on Thursday that it had decided to ground 150 pilots with dubious licenses, a day after the aviation minister made the startling claim that 40 percent of the pilots in the country were flying with fake licenses.
“We have decided to ground 150 pilots,” Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez told EFE.
Hafeez said the Pakistani Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has been probing the alleged fake pilot licenses issue since February 2019, which is still ongoing.
He said the licenses of these 150 pilots, out of the total 434 pilots of the airline, were doubtful.
“After the investigation, if any license is found genuine, they (the pilots) may keep flying,” said the spokesperson.
The PIA announcement comes after Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan on Wednesday told the National Assembly that almost 40 percent of the 860 active commercial pilots in Pakistan have fake flying licenses.
However, CAA spokesperson Mujtaba Baig told EFE on Thursday that 262, or 30 percent of the total active Pakistani pilots, might be flying with fake licenses.
The PIA spokesperson said he didn’t know how such a huge number of commercial pilots could fly with fake licenses.
“I don’t know how they got (the licenses), but it didn’t happen overnight,” Hafeez said.
The carrier, however, acknowledged the preliminary probe report, saying it had “already taken measures learning from it.”
“An independent Flight Data Monitoring set-up established to monitor and analyze all flights. All pilots with dubious licenses will be grounded. Safety is more important than any commercial interest,” PIA tweeted on Thursday.
Khan blew on Wednesday the lid off the dismal state of Pakistan’s aviation sector in the parliament as he shared probe findings into the last month’s plane crash that killed 98 people.
The minister said the crash was caused by human error by the pilots and the air traffic control.
He said the pilots of the PIA A-320 passenger plane that crashed in a residential area close to the airport in Karachi on May 22 had ignored warnings from air traffic controllers as they were busy “discussing coronavirus throughout the flight.”
“According to the report, the plane was 100 percent fit for flying. The pilot on the final approach did not identify any technical fault,” Khan insisted.
He said the plane had been flying at a lower altitude than it should have at the distances that remained from the runway, something that it was warned about three times by the ATC tower.
According to the minister, the landing gear of the aircraft also remained closed even when it should have been open.
Khan blamed ATC officials for not informing the pilots that their first landing attempt had damaged the aircraft and subsequently set fire to the engines.
Pakistan is no stranger to plane crashes and suffered one of its worst air tragedies in 2010 when 152 people died in an accident near Islamabad.
Two years later, another plane crash near the capital killed 138 people.