June 25, 2020 / 6:54 AM / 11 days ago

Pakistan flag carrier to ground a third of pilots over 'dubious' licences

KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) will ground a third of its 434 pilots on suspicion that they hold “dubious” licences and flying certificates, a company spokesman said on Thursday, prompting concern from international safety and transport bodies.

A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) passenger plane arrives at the Benazir International airport in Islamabad, Pakistan, December 2, 2015. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood/Files

An inquiry into a crash in Karachi last month in which 97 people were killed pointed to the pilots not following procedures, while a government minister said the voice recorder suggested the pilots were distracted by a conversation about the novel coronavirus.

“We’ve been told that an investigation conducted by the civil aviation authority has found that about 150 of our pilots have dubious licenses,” company spokesman Abdullah H. Khan told Reuters.

All of the pilots under investigation would be grounded, he said.

“We are following reports from Pakistan regarding fake pilot licences, which are concerning and represent a serious lapse in the licensing and safety oversight by the aviation regulator,” a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said, adding that the global airlines body was seeking more information.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency said it was aware of the reports containing serious allegations. “We are investigating the matter but cannot comment further at this stage,” a spokeswoman said.

Pakistan’s investigations into pilots’ qualifications began after a 2018 crash in which it was found that the test date on the license of the pilot involved had been a holiday - suggesting it was fake as testing could not have taken place on that day.

Another pilot had been out of the country on the date stamped on his flying certificate, Khan said.

PIA has a fleet of 31 aircraft that fly domestic and international routes.

Successive governments have tried to overhaul the loss-making carrier over the years but with little sign of success.

Writing and reporting by Asif Shahzad in Islamabad; Additional reporting by Laurence Frost in Paris; Editing by Robert Birsel and Hugh Lawson

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