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July 2, 2020

Disastrous results

Editorial

 
July 2, 2020

Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan’s statement in parliament that a large percentage of Pakistani pilots hold ‘fake’ or dubious licences has led to some very serious consequences. The European Union Air Safety (EASA) has suspended the flight operations of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to the EU. The ban is applicable to all EU nations and will be in force for at least six months. Though PIA is trying to allay the concerns of EASA, there is no hope that the suspension will be revoked any time sooner. EASA does not normally suspend any airline’s permission to operate to the EU without proper consideration but when the aviation minister of a country talks about grounding hundreds of pilots whose licences the minister terms ‘dubious’, the world is bound to take notice. Any authorization to operate to other countries is given on the basis of confidence and trust that is reposed in the airline, its planes and pilots. The UK, to which millions of Pakistanis travel each year too has stopped PIA flights from using three key airports. More airports could follow. The UAE meanwhile has asked the CAA for details about the 54 pilots working for its airlines and the status of their licenses.

Many analysts have said that the startling revelations made by the minister while presenting the investigation report of PIA’s PK-8303 crash went much beyond what was called for. That said, there is no doubt that there must be a thorough investigation into this matter, and anyone found involved in procuring or encouraging dubious means for acquiring flying licences should be taken to task. This includes not just pilots and airlines but also those responsible for regulating aviation in the country. As per reports in the media, this entire problem seems to have started in 2012 when the CAA introduced eight written papers to pass in addition to the hands-on technical training. Before that there were just two written papers for the pilots. After this addition, some aspiring pilots are said to have started using unfair means to pass the papers. Needless to say this could not have happened without the involvement of examination authorities. That perhaps resulted in the so-called dubious licences the minister talked about.

Ideally, the minister and his team should have done a thorough inquiry before leveling charges this publicly. Now, not only the CAA and PIA but the state of Pakistan itself is under scrutiny as a possible accomplice in the scam. This episode must come to an end through a proper investigation. However, it is fair to say that the damage has been done and it will take a long time for the CAA and PIA or any Pakistani pilot to manage to restore their reputation. This is most disastrous for PIA, which is already struggling and which has already been in the eye of the trigger-happy privatisation lobby in the country. This may just be the final nail in this chapter of the national flag-carrier.