For obvious reasons, 2020 was a dramatic year for the global aviation industry. However, it was even more significant for Pakistan’s aviation industry as a major scandal regarding fake pilot licenses hit Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). Having halted the issuance of pilots licenses due to an in-depth audit, Pakistan’s civil aviation regulator is hoping to resume licensing pilots within the next few months.
Back in 2007, the European Union banned 37 PIA planes, including A310s, from flying to Europe due to safety concerns. It only allowed access to PIA’s eight Boeing 777s. Photo: Getty Images
Licensing of pilots to resume once again
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has completed its safety audit of Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority- particularly when it comes to its licensing of pilots. The probe was initiated due to a major scandal over fake licenses which gripped the sector in the summer of 2020.
The scandal resulted in the grounding of 262 pilots and the firing of at least 60 PIA employees, which included five pilots. Pilots were found to have held fake qualifications but were also fired over embezzlement and absence from duty. Another 28 employees were fired for fake education credentials, and 27 were fired for being absent from duty without notice.
According to Reuters, the ICAO advised in September of 2020 that Pakistan and its aviation authority suspend the issuance of new pilot licenses due to the scandal, which exposed significant systemic flaws. Now that the ICAO and a nine-member team have concluded a 10-day audit, an official with Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) says that it hopes to resume the licensing of its pilots come February 2022.
“We are hopeful we will resume issuance of licensing following the release of release of the ICAO audit report expected in February…The situation is that they have cleared us but a final report is awaited.” -Khaqan Murtaza, Director General, PCAA via Reuters
The audit went beyond the review of pilot licensing and examination and also covered the following areas:
AirworthinessFlying standardsAir navigation servicesAerodromesAircraft accidents
PIA’s main high-capacity, long-haul jet is the Boeing 777. Photo: Getty Images
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While all systems have their strengths and weaknesses, a system designed to certify pilots should be rigorous and thorough in the name of safety. Such a process proved to be too challenging for some, who chose to seek false licenses instead.
This all came to light following a PIA plane crash in May 2020 that claimed the lives of 97 people. Preliminary investigations showed that pilots disregarded alarms and failed to follow standard procedures.
Security personnel walk beside the wreckage of a plane at the site after a Pakistan International Airlines aircraft crashed in a residential area days before in Karachi on May 24, 2020. Photo: Getty Images
In addition to the tragic loss of life and property damage, PIA’s reputation was severely affected. For some time, the airline was even banned from flying to Europe and the United States.
Hopefully, this review process and any changes that may follow will lead to further restoration of confidence in Pakistan’s commercial aviation sector.