Pakistan validates most licenses of pilots working abroad

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s government has validated most of the licenses it issued to pilots working abroad, but more than 200 others accused of obtaining tainted licenses were still being investigated, an aviation spokesman said Friday, in a move aimed at addressing the concerns of global airlines.

In a statement, Abdul Sattar Khokar, spokesman for Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, said the licenses of 166 of 176 Pakistani pilots working in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Malaysia, Vietnam, Bahrain, Ethiopia, Hong Kong, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait were “validated as genuine and certified” and “having no anomaly.”

The verification process for the licenses of the remaining 10 pilots will be concluded by next week, Khokar said. He said the agency informed airlines from the 10 countries about the pilots’ qualifications at their request.

The credibility of Pakistan’s civil aviation authority and reputation of the country’s pilots have been at stake since June. That’s when aviation minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan, in a speech to Parliament, stunned the nation and shocked many airlines around the globe by announcing that Pakistan had grounded nearly a third of the pilots working for state-run Pakistan International Airlines because they cheated on their pilot’s exams.

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The revelation prompted the European Union’s aviation safety agency to halt Pakistan’s national airline from flying into Europe for six months. It also forced some countries to ground Pakistani pilots working for their airlines.

At the time of the EU-imposed ban, PIA was not flying to Europe because of the pandemic. But it had hoped to resume flights to Oslo, Copenhagen, Paris, Barcelona and Milan within the next two months.

Pakistan’s move to ground unqualified pilots came after a probe into the May 22 Airbus A320 crash that killed 97 people at the port city of Karachi. The investigation expanded outside of PIA and found that 260 of 860 pilots in Pakistan had cheated on their pilots’ exams, but were still given licences by the Civil Aviation Authority.

The government fired 28 pilots after concluding they cheated to get their licenses as well as five civil aviation officials implicated in the scandal.

Khokhar said a separate investigation is underway to verify the licenses of 76 pilots out of 262 earlier identified as “possessing suspicious flying licenses.” The pilots are currently grounded.

The government has so far not said whether the pilot and co-pilot of the doomed Karachi flight had tainted licenses. Pakistani investigators have said human error was behind the crash.

Pakistan’s opposition has urged the government to fire aviation minister Khan over what they said were irresponsible remarks raising questions about the credibility of pilots in the country and abroad.

PIA’s reputation in the region has steadily declined since the 1970s as the carrier has been plagued by reports of numerous violations and financial losses.

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