PIA suspends 150 pilots over alleged licence fraud

Initial investigation finds human error primarily responsible for the plane crash in Karachi on May 22 killing 98 people
- A Monitor Desk Report 25 Jun, 2020 | 918 Views|-+
Dhaka: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has suspended 150 pilots today after questions arose over the authenticity of their licences, an airlines spokesman said.

The announcement comes a day after an initial investigation found human error was primarily responsible for a PIA plane crash that killed 98 people in Karachi on May 22.

"Out of our 434 pilots, 150 will be grounded as of today," PIA spokesman Abdullah Khan said.

"It will totally cripple us. But we cannot take risks with this."

Today's suspensions will remain until investigations can be carried out to verify the authenticity of the pilots' licences. The airline will primarily look into allegations that the pilots did not sit for the examinations themselves and sent others instead.

Seventeen pilots were suspended in January 2019 over similar allegations following a probe into an air crash in the southwestern Pakistani town of Panjgur - where a plane carrying 43 passengers careered off the runway after making an unsafe approach - said Khan. No one was injured in that incident.

On June 24, Pakistani Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan told Parliament that 262 of Pakistan's 860 active, licensed pilots had been found to have suspect licences.

"[They] were found not to have given their exams themselves," said Khan. "They give money and have a dummy candidate sit in their place."

On May 22, 98 people were killed when a PIA Airbus A320 crashed into a residential neighbourhood about 1.4km (0.9 miles) from Karachi's Jinnah International Airport.

The initial investigation report, released by Khan on June 24, said "human error" by the aircraft's pilots and air traffic controllers was primarily to blame for the crash.

The Pakistan Air Line Pilots Association (PALPA) disputed the report's findings, with a spokesperson saying that it was not satisfied that there had been pilots trained to fly the same model aircraft involved in the investigation.

The air accident investigation board's initial report found that the pilot involved in the May 22 crash had ignored three warnings from air traffic control regarding the aircraft's excessive altitude and speed during approach.

The aircraft attempted a landing without its landing gear in place, causing its engines to hit the runway three times before the pilot lifted off again, the report said.

On his second approach, the pilot reported that both engines - damaged by the impact with the runway - had failed. The aircraft crashed into a dense residential neighbourhood just short of the airport on its second approach, killing 97 of the 99 people on board.

A child, who was in one of the 29 homes destroyed by the crash, was also killed, hospital officials said.

Aviation Minister Khan said a government inquiry was ongoing into all 262 alleged cases of fraud in obtaining pilots licences.

PIA's spokesman said that any pilots found to have lied about their credentials "will be terminated".

State-owned PIA is the largest of Pakistan's commercial air carriers, with smaller airlines Serene Air and Air Blue taking up most of the rest of the country's air traffic.

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