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34 pilots suspended over Pakistani licence scandal

written by Hannah Dowling | July 20, 2020

Pakistan International Airlines ATR 42-500 AP-BHP. (Wikimedia Commons/Asuspine)
Pakistan International Airlines ATR 42-500 AP-BHP. (Wikimedia Commons/Asuspine)

The Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) has finally addressed reports that over a third of all Pakistani pilots are holders of fraudulent licences, and confirmed the suspension of 34 pilots whose licences could not be verified.

The PCAA, the national body responsible for the provision of pilot licences within Pakistan, also stated that all commercial pilot licences (CPL) and airline transport licences (ATPL) issued by the body are “genuine and validly issued”, and argued that the matter has been misconstrued by the media.

In a letter dated 13 July, PCAA director general Hassan Nasir Jamy wrote: “It is important to clarify that all CPL/ATPL pilot licences issued by the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority are genuine and validly issued. None of the pilot licences are fake, rather the matter has been misconstrued and incorrectly highlighted in the media/social media.”

World of Aviation understands that the concerns raised about the validity of pilot licences are pertaining only to written examinations, and not to any facet of the flying component of receiving a valid licence.

The PCAA also stated it had been able to verify the validity of a number of the pilots who were suspected of obtaining their qualifications fraudulently, although how this verification was achieved is not yet known.

Jamy said that PCAA has been able to verify and clear 96 Pakistani pilots to date, out of 104 names already received from various civil aviation authorities and foreign airlines employing Pakistani pilots.

Meanwhile, the body has now suspended 34 licences of PIA pilots, as they were unable to verify that they had in fact been present at the time of their written exam.

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Jamy appeared to downplay the severity of the issue in the letter, stating that “some concerns” were raised about the validity of the licences of “some pilots”.

“The federal government immediately took notice and embarked upon the process of verifying the credentials of all licensed pilots through a forensic scrutiny,” he stated in the document.

“During this process, it occurred that there were discrepancies pertaining to the computer-based examination, which is one of the steps in the licensing process. Immediately upon completion of the process, the pilots falling in this category were treated as ‘suspects’ till clearance. 

“They were taken off from flying duties, if any, and were grounded pending formal process, after providing them opportunity to explain their position.”

The letter continued: “Pakistan has always maintained a strong regulatory oversight mechanism for safety of skies all over. It has been ensured that only those pilots and aircrew with valid qualification, credentials and unblemished record shall be allowed to fly. 

“I hope this letter is convincing evidence of Pakistan’s continued commitment towards aviation safety. It is highlighted that as a responsible regulator we have voluntarily raised the subject matter.”

The statement from the PCAA was released almost three weeks after the first allegations were made by the nation’s Federal Minister for Aviation, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, that Pakistani pilots had been obtaining pilot licences fraudulently.

On Wednesday, 24 June, Minister Khan told the Parliament that 262 of Pakistan’s 860 active, licensed pilots have been found to have suspect licences, with the minister also claiming that these licence holders enlisted “dummy candidates”, who were paid to sit their pilot exams in their place.

The allegations triggered worldwide controversy and led to the suspension of Pakistan International Airlines’ permissions to operate in various global airspaces, including the EU and US. Over 150 of PIA’s pilots were involved in the licensing scandal.

The investigations into the validity of Pakistani pilot licences came after two PIA plane incidents, including one which caused the death of 98 people. The cause of the crash was decided as ‘human error’.

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