Almost one in three civilian pilots in Pakistan are transporting passengers, including foreign carriers, on a fake license and are totally unqualified to fly, the country’s aviation minister admitted on Wednesday.
In an address in front of Pakistan’s National Assembly, Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan said 262 pilots nationwide had not obtained the necessary qualifications and had paid someone else to take the exams for them.
Khan’s revelations come days after an investigation into last month’s Pakistan International Airline’s crash in Karachi that killed 97 people found that it was the result of human error on the part of the pilot, the co-pilot, and air traffic control.
The tragedy took place on May 22, just days after the government lifted restrictions imposed in response to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic and allowed the resumption of domestic flights ahead of the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The plane crashed after taking off from Lahore, leaving only two survivors on board.
Investigators had initially blamed the tragedy on engine failure, but Khan insisted they were distracted by a conversation about the coronavirus.
“The pilots were discussing corona throughout the flight,” Khan explained. “They were not focused. They talked about the coronavirus and how their families were affected.” He did not clarify whether they were flying on fake licenses but pledged to “make sure that unqualified pilots never fly aircraft again.”
Khan claimed that the pilots were warned three times by air traffic controllers that the plane was at too high an altitude and they should not attempt to land, but they remained “overconfident” while the “captain did pay any heed to these instructions.”
He added that air traffic control failed to inform the pilots about damage caused to the plane’s engines after its first failed landing attempt. “The engines of the plane were damaged when they scraped the runway but the air traffic control did not inform the pilot,” he said. “Thus, pilots and ATC both did not follow protocols”
On Wednesday, PIA announced that they were grounding all pilots suspected of holding fake licenses.
“PIA acknowledges that fake licenses are not just a PIA issue but spread across the entire Pakistani airline industry,” said company spokesperson Abdullah Khan said, admitting that some of these pilots even fly for foreign carriers.