The U.S. Department of Transportation (TSA) said it has revoked permission for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to conduct charter flights to the United States, citing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) concerns over Pakistani pilot certifications.
The PIA, facing problems with EU and in the UK, is now also banned in the US, which is definitely and additional setback for Pakistan’s troubled national airline. The information is contained in a revocation of special authorisation dated July 1 provided by the department to Reuters on Friday.
Fake License Issue: Blunder by Ghulam Sarwar, Aviation Minister
Irony is that PTI government was working hard to reorganise PIA to turn it around. It obtained a serving Air Marshal, Arshad Malik, on deputation from Pakistan Airforce (PAF) and then strongly defended him in courts when entrenched mafias of pilots and unions conspired two get rid of him through courts.
Arshad Malik undertook a massive initiative of reforming PIA. But the Air Bus crash, on May 22, before Eid, in Karachi and the unwise and partially misinformed commentary by the Aviation Minister, Ghulam Sarwar Khan – on the issue of irregularities in PIA pilots – has suddenly made things very difficult for PIA’s future.
Ghulam Sarwar, the cerebrally challenged aviation minister of Pakistan, presented facts in Pakistan National Assembly in a manner that mixed up long standing issue of irregularities in Pilots ATPL (Airline Transport Pilots License) license with the Air Bus crash in Karachi.
Fake License Scandal: What’s the reality?
In reality, both things were different from each other. The pilots who blundered over Karachi were not part of the ATPL license irregularities. In any case, all pilots flying PIA held their first commercial pilot licenses (CPL) and had more than 1500 hours of flying including simulation courses done in foreign facilities in Bahrain and else where.
PIA and Aviation had already been working to discipline the ATPL issue. However Aviation Minister’s comments directed as a barb against political opponents created the impression that many pilots inside PIA – more than 100 – did not held any proper licenses to fly.
Airline Transport Pilots License (ATPL) Exam rules and syllabus were revised in 2012 by ICAO, International Civil Aviation Agency making 70% as pass benchmark in a computer driven exam like the GMAT and GRE conducted by ETS and USMLE exams conducted by ECFMG.
Many pilots who were finding it difficult to pass this 70% pass percentage exam were bribing civiil aviation license wing to get pass marks. Scandal was unearthed when PTI govt took over in 2018, report for action was ripe and some people in civil aviation were arrested too. Aviation minister now went public with that report but his comments sent the wrong message at the wrong time – by mixing the Air Bus crash with the pending report. Nothing could have been a more classic example of mishandled political communication.
PIA banned in US after fake license scandal triggered by Aviation Minister
International media ended up reporting that Pakistan last month grounded almost a third of its pilots after discovering they may have falsified their qualifications.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency, already concerned over certain security aspects, suspended PIA’s authorisation to fly to the bloc for six months in a blow to the carrier’s operations. UK – though not in EU – is still part of the European Aviation protocol took similar actions. Pakistan Foreign Office was trying to explain the situation when the US ban happened.
— 🇵🇰Frankly Speaking (@occupiedbypak) July 10, 2020
PIA was not available immediately for comment outside normal business hours.
Pakistan’s Geo News reported PIA had confirmed the U.S. ban and said it would address the concerns through ongoing corrective measures within the airline.
Pakistan’s grounding of pilots with dubious credentials followed the crash of a PIA jet in May that killed 97 people.
The authorisation was revoked “due to recent events identified by the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority that are of serious concern to aviation safety, specifically matters pertaining to the proper certification of certain Pakistani pilots”, according to an email sent to PIA officials by a US-based law firm.
PIA spokesperson Abdullah Khan confirmed that the airline had been notified of the permission being withdrawn via email.
Direct US flight permissions for PIA: Revoked
Meanwhile, tentative moves by PIA into the United States market are on ice. The airline had permission to operate 12 special direct flights to the United States this year following exhaustive negotiations with Transport Security Agency (TSA) and other departments of the US govt. PIA’s CEO, Air Marshall Arshad Malik, on deputation from Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had played a huge role in obtaining that permission by proactively working on the issues and engaging the US embassy in Islamabad on the issue – as can be read in GVS detailed story of May 1, 2020, “USA allows PIA to operate first ever direct flights under CEO Arshad Malik”
PIA had hoped the success of those flights would lead to permission for permanent direct flights. To date, seven of the twelve flights have operated. But the United States Government now advises the remaining five flights will not happen.
The current scandal is not the first time PIA has had problems with pilot licenses. It is a recurring issue. But this time, because of the numbers involved, the scandal is getting traction. If it is found the pilots operating the PIA flight that crashed in May held fake licenses, you could expect the scandal to widen a lot further.
It was the first time that Pakistan’s national flag carrier operated direct flights to the US.
“It is a setback for us,” PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez said in a statement.
PIA banned by EU over safety concerns
Earlier, regulators in the European Union (EU) have banned Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) for six months after the state-run carrier grounded nearly a third of its pilots for holding fake or dubious licences, officials said Tuesday.
The EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) told PIA “it is still not sure” if all the remaining pilots are properly qualified, and “they have lost their confidence” in the airline, PIA spokesman Abdullah Khan said.
The suspension is the latest fallout for PIA after Pakistan’s aviation minister told parliament last week that a government review had found 262 of the country’s 860 active pilots hold fake licenses or cheated on exams.
More than half of them were from PIA, and the airline said it would immediately ground 141 of its 434 pilots.
The EASA said it had suspended PIA and a smaller private Pakistan airline “in view of the recent investigation reported on in the Pakistani Parliament which revealed that a large share of pilot licenses issued in Pakistan are invalid”.
PIA is filing an appeal, Khan said.
GVS News Desk with additional input by other sources