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EU suspends Pakistani airline amid fraudulent license scandal

written by Hannah Dowling | July 2, 2020

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has announced that it will be suspending Pakistan International Airlines’ authorisation to fly into EU member states, citing “safety management” concerns.

The announcement has come following a Pakistani Parliament inquiry, which found that almost a third of all active pilots in the country may have obtained their licences fraudulently, by paying others to sit their exams in their place.

According to a letter sent from EASA to the state-owned Pakistani airline, its decision to suspend PIA’s ‘Third Country Operator’ authorisation status came into effect on Wednesday, 1 July at midnight UTC.

The decision will see PIA unable to perform any commercial air transport within any of the 28 EU states.

PIA recently grounded 150 of its 434 pilots to investigate the authenticity of their licences, following allegations from the country’s aviation minister that a third of all registered pilots in Pakistan had achieved their pilot qualifications under false pretenses.

The nation’s federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan told the Pakistani Parliament on Wednesday that 284 of the country’s total 860 active and licensed pilots may have achieved their licence by paying others to sit for their examinations.

“[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.

However, EASA said in its letter, that PIA’s decision to suspend its accused pilots did not do enough to address the agency’s concerns regarding overall air safety in Pakistan, in addition to its concerns regarding PIA’s safety management systems specifically.

“[The grounding of pilots] does not mitigate EASA’s concern, as there are strong indications that a high number of Pakistani pilot licences are invalid,” EASA stated in the letter.

“EASA therefore no longer has confidence that Pakistan, as the state of operator, can effectively ensure that operators certified in Pakistan comply at all times with the applicable requirements for crew qualification.”

PIA has the right to appeal the decision within two months of 30 June, the letter said.

This all comes in the wake of an initial investigation into a PIA plane crash that killed 98 people in Pakistan in May. The initial investigation found ‘human error’ to be primarily responsible for the crash.

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 his second approach, the pilot reported that both engines – damaged by the impact with the runway on its first approach – had failed, causing the aircraft to crash 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.


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