(Updates with govt, opposition, analyst comments)
By Asif Shahzad
ISLAMABAD, July 1 (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates is seeking to verify the credentials of Pakistani pilots and engineers employed in its airlines, as global concern mounts after the South Asian government grounded 262 pilots for holding “dubious” qualifications.
Pakistan grounded the pilots on June 26 on suspicion that they allegedly falsified their examinations to qualify for flying aircraft. The move followed a preliminary report on an airliner crash in Karachi in May that found the pilots had failed to follow standard procedures and disregarded alarms.
Ninety-seven people were killed in that crash.
In a letter to Pakistani aviation authorities, the Director General of the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi requested verification of the credentials of Pakistani pilots, aircraft maintenance engineers, and flight operations officers working in the Middle Eastern country.
Pakistan has a total of 860 pilots, 107 of whom work for foreign airlines, according to the country’s aviation minister.
“We would like to request your good offices to verify the licensing credentials of the attached pilots list who are currently holding UAE’s pilots licences based on licences and qualifications issued by Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority,” the letter, reviewed by Reuters, said.
Pakistan’s aviation ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the letter, which was dated June 29 and addressed the Director General of the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority Hassan Nasir Jamy.
On Tuesday, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) suspended two Pakistani airlines’ authorisation to fly to the bloc for six months, and a day earlier Vietnam announced that it was grounding all 12 Pakistani pilots working in the country.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi assured his EU counterpart Josep Borrel in a telephone call on Wednesday that comprehensive reforms are being brought in the country’s national flag carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).
PIA, which is said to have 141 pilots with “dubious” licences, has been the hardest hit by EASA’s suspension.
On Friday Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said that since late 2018 authorities had been investigating alleged collusion between pilots and civil aviation officials intended to cheat at examinations.
The government’s handling of the matter has come in for criticism locally.
Opposition lawmaker Ahsan Iqbal said the government has put Pakistan’s entire aviation industry at stake just to cover up regulatory failures highlighted in a preliminary report into the May air crash, that prompted the government to make the list of “dubious” pilots public.
However, the government, which came to power in 2018, has defended its actions as being necessary, with Prime Minister Imran Khan blaming previous governments for PIA’s downfall.
“It is a complete debacle,” political analyst Zahid Hussain told Reuters, adding that the government’s move was aimed at settling political scores.
“The issue was badly managed by the government, which is just another example of them doing things first and thinking later”.
Pakistani pilots and their union, the Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (PALPA), as well as two airlines, say there are discrepancies in the government-prepared list of pilots with licences deemed dubious. (Writing by Asif Shahzad; Additional Reporting by Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi, Pakistan; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Gibran Peshimam, William Maclean)