Pakistan to ground 150 pilots for cheating to get licences

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s state-run airline said yesterday it will ground 150 pilots, accusing them of obtaining licences by having others take exams for them after a probe into last month’s crash that killed 97 people in Karachi.

Abdullah Hafeez, a spokesman for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), didn’t give additional details about the cheating but said a process to fire the pilots had been initiated.

“We will make it sure that such unqualified pilots never fly aircraft again,” he told The Associated Press. He said the safety of passengers was the airline’s top priority.

The move by PIA to ground the pilots comes a day after the country’s aviation minister, Ghulam Sarqar Khan, said 262 out of 860 Pakistani pilots had “fake” licences. He made the revelation while presenting preliminary findings of a probe to Parliament into the May 22 Airbus A320 aircraft crash.

The announcement stunned lawmakers present in the National Assembly and shocked family members of passengers who died last month when Flight PK8303 after departing from the eastern city of Lahore went down in a congested residential area in Karachi, killing 97 people, including all the crew members. There were only two survivors and a girl died on the ground.

File photo shows volunteers looking for survivors of a Pakistan International Airlines plane that crashed in a residential area of Karachi, Pakistan. PHOTO: AP

Neither Khan nor Hafeez released additional details about the alleged methods used by the pilots to wrongfully obtain licences to fly commercial planes. Khan said only that they did not take examinations themselves to get the required certificates, which are issued by the civil aviation authority.

But officials familiar with the process involved in issuing pilot’s licences said an unspecified number of people who had the skills to fly a plane but lacked technical knowledge had in the past bribed qualified persons to take exams for them. They didn’t elaborate.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, said PIA learned about the scandal two years ago and had fired at least four pilots at the time on accusations of falsifying exams to obtain a licence from the civil aviation authority.

Shortly after the crash, Pakistan announced it would probe the incident and share its findings. Khan presented preliminary findings of the investigation into last month’s crash to Parliament on Wednesday. He said the pilot, before making his first failed landing attempt, did not pay attention to warnings from the air control tower when he was told the plane was too high to land. However, he said the pilot and co-pilot were medically fit and qualified to fly.