More than 30 per cent of all registered pilots in Pakistan have been accused of committing fraud in order to obtain their license, resulting in an ongoing government inquiry.
The nation’s federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan told the Pakistani Parliament on Wednesday that 262 of Pakistan’s 860 active, licensed pilots have been found to have suspect licences.
“[They] were found not to have given their exams themselves,” said Minister Khan. “They give money and have a dummy candidate sit in their place.”
Minister Khan said a government inquiry was ongoing into all 262 alleged cases of fraud in obtaining these pilot’s licences.
The announcement has led to state-owned Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) suspending 150 of its pilots involved in the accusations, until the validity of their licences can be appropriately verified.
“Out of our 434 pilots, 150 will be grounded as of today,” a PIA spokesperson revealed to Al Jazeera on Thursday.
“It will totally cripple us. But we cannot take risks with this.”
These suspensions will remain until investigations can be carried out to verify the authenticity of the pilots’ licences, according to the PIA spokesperson, and the airline will primarily look into allegations that the pilots did not sit for the examinations themselves.
Any pilots found to have lied about their credentials “will be terminated”, according to the spokesperson.
This all comes just one day after an investigation found ‘human error’ to be primarily responsible for a PIA plane crash that killed 98 people in Pakistan last month.
On 22 May, PIA Airbus A320 crashed into a residential neighbourhood about 1.4 kilometres from Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport.
The aircraft attempted to land at the airport without first releasing its landing gear, causing both engines to hit the runway three times before the pilot lifted off again, according to the report released by Minister Khan on Wednesday.
On his second approach, the pilot reported that both engines – damaged by the impact with the runway on its first approach – had failed.
The aircraft then crashed into a dense residential neighbourhood, just short of the airport, on its second approach.
The crash ultimately killed 97 of the 99 people on board, as well as a child who was within one of the 29 homes destroyed by the plane.
The initial investigation report stated that “human error” on the part of both the aircraft’s pilots and air traffic controllers was primarily to blame for the crash, stating that the pilot ignored three warnings from air traffic control regarding the aircraft’s excessive altitude and speed during its approach into the aerodrome.
According to Minister Khan, 17 pilots were previously suspended over similar allegations in January 2019, following an air crash in Panjgur, where a plane carrying 43 passengers veered off the runway following an unsafe approach.