(RFERL) – Pakistan’s aviation authorities have grounded 262 airline pilots whose flying licenses may be fake or falsified in a widening scandal following a fatal plane crash in Karachi last month.
Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said June 26 the pilots are under investigation and five senior officials at the Civil Aviation Authority who were sacked over the scandal may be prosecuted.
The pilots include 141 at state-run Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), which employs 450 pilots. The remaining pilots worked for private airlines and charter services.
On June 25, PIA said it grounded 150 of its pilots for obtaining a license through cheating and began to terminate their contracts.
The scandal emerged this week when Khan announced in parliament the findings of an initial inquiry into a PIA Airbus A320 crash on May 22 that killed 97 people, including all crew members.
The initial investigation concluded the pilots were talking about the coronavirus while they attempted to land the aircraft in Karachi without putting its wheels down.
A first attempt to land the plane damaged the engines. The plane then lost power and crashed near the airport as the pilots attempted a second landing.
Authorities have not said whether the pilot and co-pilot had fake licenses.
Khan said during the June 24 parliamentary session that another inquiry had found 262 pilots — out of a total of 860 active pilots in the country — had obtained their licenses through cheating and having others take exams for them.
He said there has been an investigation into collusion between pilots and civil aviation officials since late 2018.
The disgrace has put the financial viability of PIA into doubt and cast a shadow over the credibility of the Civil Aviation Authority.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) voiced alarm over the issue, calling it “a serious lapse in the licensing and safety oversight by the aviation regulator.”
Fahad Masood, a retired Pakistan Air Force officer and former employee of the International Flight Safety Foundation, told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal that the news will tarnish the image of the country’s aviation industry and result in massive financial losses at PIA.
PIA’s reputation has already suffered in recent years amid mismanagement, frequent cancellations, and financial difficulties.
Khan sought to deflect the blame for the crisis from the current government.
Khan insisted that since Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government came to power two years ago, no pilot with a fake license received a job at the PIA.
“These pilots against whom inquiries are being conducted were all recruited before 2018,” Khan said.
“We are clearing up the mess that was created by the previous government,” he said.