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June 25, 2009

Appointment of 80 pilots in PIA raises many eyebrows


June 25, 2009

ISLAMABAD: The recent appointment of 80 pilots by the Pakistan International Airlines has raised many eyebrows with some insiders accusing the administration of foul play while some candidates too talk of irregularities. However, the airlines management brushed aside these reports, terming them as mere speculation.

While none of the 66 pilots appointed in 2006 have started flying as most of them are yet to complete their basic training, the airlines has now issued offer letters to a much bigger junk of 80 pilots at a much faster pace than before.

There are also reports of some candidates even challenging violations in the observance of regional and provincial quota while making these appointments. A candidate who claims to have got more than 80 per cent marks in the written test complains about his non-selection despite his excellent performance while those securing much lower marks than him were issued offer letters. He said that some, despite scoring in 90s in the written test, could not secure a job as pilot in the airlines.

Syed Sultan Hasan, the PIA spokesman, when approached said that the management had followed a transparent recruitment procedure that included newspaper advertisement, short-listing of the candidates, their test and interview. He though said that off hand he would not be able to comment on any individual case but insisted that the management did not receive any complaint against these appointments.

He said if there was anyone having any complaint against these appointments, he could go to the Federal Services Tribunal or knock the doors of courts. Sultan Hasan said the talk about irregularities in the appointment process was merely a speculation.

Hasan said that the PIA was facing shortage of pilots due to which it had to go for large scale appointments of pilots, who after going through their training period are appointed first officers and remained standby to fly. He agreed that almost 66 pilots, who

were issued offer letters in 2006, had yet to fly the national flag carrier.

Sources said 20 out of the 66 pilots have recently completed their training from airlines training centre in Karachi whereas the second batch of 23 pilots is presently undergoing training. The remaining 23 would be imparted training after the present batch completes its course.

It is said that those appointed in 2006 would have to perhaps wait for about another 6-7 months to become line pilots. The sources say that in such situation, instead of making fresh appointments of pilots in much higher number i.e. 80, the management should have opted to appoint a batch of 15-20 pilots annually. It is said that actually such a large number of appointments were made to select those who were already “earmarked”.

PIA sources alleged that these appointments were made in highly politicised manner by the top management that has been involved in similar practices even in the past. These sources referred to an inquiry conducted by a board led by the then Air Vice Marshal Mushaf Ali Mir, who later became the air chief and died in an air crash, in 1997. They alleged that a top man in the present management was found involved in irregular selection procedures during the second tenure of Benazir Bhutto.

At one point, the inquiry even said about the same PIA top gun, “There were many people who personally visited and made telephone calls alleging that ... (name excluded) took 15-20 lac rupees for leaking the paper (for the appointments of pilots).”

The PIA spokesman when asked about the 1997 inquiry said that he did not know about it. The 1997 inquiry also explained how a senior PIA official, who was sacked later but during the present regime given key employment related job that he lost too, was alleged to have shown question paper of the written examination at that time to some of his favourites.

A key official of the PM Secretariat during Benazir Bhutto’s second tenure, who also served against a top bureaucratic position in the same secretariat under Gilani but was later transferred, was also accused by the same inquiry of having demanded Rs 1.1m for leaking the question paper to the father of a candidate who had declined to pay the said amount. Another candidate, who had qualified the test for pilots in 1991, had joined the PIA in 1995 batch by virtue of his brother — then a serving Lt Gen in Pakistan Army.

According to one source, this time too the written paper had been leaked. The source said some close relations of even some serving pilots in the PIA had got close to 100% marks in the written exams whereas there were also gossips of corruption but there was no evidence available of such charges.

Meanwhile, a foreign qualified candidate, who had also applied for the pilot slot, on condition of not being named, said that he too appeared in the written test conducted on 22nd February at PIA Training Centre, Karachi, and got more than 80% marks but despite performing well in the interview in April, he was placed in the standby list.

But later, early this month, when he approached the concerned section of the PIA he found himself downgraded from amongst the first six to the next six and later the same day his name further went down in the list of standby candidates. The candidate said he did not want to make his name public as his name still reflected in the list of standby candidates. He claimed that some of his friends despite scoring more than 90 marks in the written exam could not make it while those scoring far less had been issued offer letters.

The MD PIA, Ejaz Haroon, was also contacted but he was not available. His special assistant though spoke to this correspondent to take the questions for the MD PIA and promised to get back to The News. It did not happen till the filing of this report.