Pakistan International Airlines has officially cleared 110 of its 141 pilots whose licences to fly were suspended, following a licensing scandal that suggested pilots had been able to secure their qualifications under false pretences.
Senior advocate Salman Akram Raja informed the Pakistani Supreme Court on Monday that the nation’s flag carrier had officially cleared 110 of its pilots of wrong-doing, following its ongoing government inquiry into the legitimacy of its pilots’ licences.
Meanwhile, 15 pilots had their licences cancelled, and a further 14 were declared unfit to fly.
Some cases are still outstanding.
The investigations followed accusations that nearly a third of pilots in Pakistan had fraudulently obtained their licences by using ‘dummy candidates’ to sit their written exams for them.
In June this year, the nation’s federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan told the Pakistani Parliament 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 the government would open an inquiry into all 262 alleged cases of fraud in obtaining these pilot’s licences.
The announcement 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 said at the time.
“It will totally cripple us. But we cannot take risks with this.”
Any pilots found to have lied about their credentials “will be terminated”, according to the spokesperson.
A small number of these 150 pilots were cleared of wrongdoing shortly after the investigation began.
Scandal continued to plague PIA when in August it announced it had let go of 63 employees over various safety breaches, most of which were unrelated to the licensing issue.
PIA said in August that it had already fired 33 of its employees for faking parts of their educational background, five of which were pilots, assumed to be connected to the ongoing pilot licence investigation.
The airline also said that 27 employees had been sacked for being absent from duty without notice. while two employees were fired on charges of embezzlement and one lost their position on grounds of “incompetence”.
No further details were revealed about the matter.
The notion of suspect licences surfaced just days after an investigation found ‘human error’ to be primarily responsible for a PIA plane crash that killed 98 people in Pakistan in 22 May, when an 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.
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.
The licensing scandal saw civil aviation authorities across the world, including the US, UK and EU, place temporary bans on all Pakistani carrier flight operations.