Pilot license cheating scandal hits Pakistan’s aviation industry

By Amjad Ali and Jaime Leon

Islamabad, July 6 (efe-epa).- Javed bribed officials from Pakistan’s aviation department to pass his exams and obtain his pilot’s license, after which he spent years flying ATR and A-320 aircrafts carrying thousands of passengers to various destinations.

However, a recent scandal concerning this practice has raised questions over the licenses of some one-third of Pakistani aircraft pilots, and brought shame upon the entire country.

Javed (name changed to protect his identity) is one of 262 pilots who have been suspended for allegedly obtaining fraudulent licenses, in a scandal that led the European Union to ban flights from the state-owned Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) for six months.

The pilot did not wish to specify how much he paid or what help he was given in the theory examinations conducted by Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), however he revealed to EFE that the bribes ranged from 300,000 rupees (around $1,800) to 1.5 million rupees (around $8,900), depending on the assistance received from the officials.

“In some cases exam papers were out (beforehand) and in some cases the invigilator would help answer the questions during the test,” Javed alleged, adding that this has been happening at least since 2012, when the number of tests was increased from two to eight.

The suspended pilot downplayed these cases of cheating on the grounds that the value of the theory exams was much lower than that of simulator tests and flight hours needed to obtain the licenses. In these practical tests, according to Javed, one could not cheat.

“Besides, there would be very few pilots who got illegal help in all the papers. In most cases they would get help in one or two papers only,” said Javed.

He added that only “a few” pilots passed the exams fraudulently and not all the 262 denounced by Pakistani Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan beore the National Assembly, or Lower House of parliament, on June 24.

Sarwar claimed that one-third of Pakistan’s 860 pilots have fraudulent licenses, and 141 of them were from the PIA.

The statements stunned the country, all the more so because they were made during the presentation of a preliminary report on a May PIA plane crash in Karachi in which 97 passengers and a girl on the ground died. The report pointed to the pilots as being partly responsible for the accident.

It was not long before international agencies responded. A few days later, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) suspended PIA’s authorization to operate in Europe.

“EASA is concerned about the validity of the Pakistani pilot licenses and that Pakistan, as the state of operator, is currently not capable to certify and oversee its operators and aircraft in accordance with applicable international standards,” said the European regulator in a letter to the airline.

The United Kingdom also banned PIA flights, while Vietnam and Malaysia temporarily grounded Pakistani pilots working there.

The United Arab Emirates asked the government to verify the licenses of Pakistani pilots and engineers working in its aviation sector, and Abu Dhabi is auditing the qualifications of Pakistan’s aviation personnel on its soil.

Amid the embarrassment, Sarwar announced in the following days that the 262 pilots concerned are suspected of having falsified qualifications, and that they have all stopped flying until the investigation, expected to take four months, is completed.

So far, the Pakistani authorities have decided to fire 28 pilots and have suspended five CAA officials for their role in the exams cheating scandal.

Although the authorities have singled out pilots and put the blame on them, the CAA is a state body managed by the government.

“This has happened because CAA officials make fake licenses. The pilots have not made them at home,” Pakistan Airline Pilots’ Association President Chaudhry Salman told EFE.

He said that any pilots with fake licenses should be dismissed and put before a court, however he raised questions about the list of 262 pilots under suspicion, as he claimed that several of those on the list have already died, retired or are still undergoing training.

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