ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s aviation authorities on Friday fired five officials implicated in a scandal over licenses obtained by pilots who had had others take their exams, the latest in shocking revelations following last month's Airbus A320 crash in Karachi.
According to aviation minister, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, the five sacked officials held senior positions at the Civil Aviation Authority. All were identified by name but Khan did not say what role they had allegedly played in the tainted licenses scandal.
He also did not elaborate on any specific charges against them, but said that apart from removing the officials from their jobs, they could also face criminal charges. Khan said private airline companies had been asked not to allow pilots with faulty licenses to fly their planes.
The scandal erupted this week when Khan said that 262 pilots working for the national carrier, Pakistan International Airlines, and three private airline companies had obtained their piloting licenses through cheating and having others take exams for them.
Khan made the revelation on Wednesday in parliament as he was presenting preliminary findings of the probe into the May 22 crash that killed 97 people, including all crew members.
The government has so far not said whether the pilot and co-pilot of the doomed Karachi flight had tainted licenses. Khan only said the two pilots were medically fit and very experienced while Pakistani investigators have said human error was behind the crash.
On Thursday, PIA said it grounded 150 of its pilots for cheating in this manner and started the process for terminating their contracts. The International Air Transport Association, or IATA, said it was alarmed and that fake licenses were a “serious lapse in the licensing and safety oversight."
The scandal has shocked many Pakistanis, including the families of those passengers who died when the flight PK8303 went down in a congested residential area while trying to land in the port city of Karachi. There were only two survivors on board and a girl died on the ground.
Khan has not elaborated on the alleged methods used by the pilots to wrongfully obtain licenses to fly commercial planes. He only said that they did not take examinations themselves to get the required certificates, which are issued by the civil aviation authority.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Khan said that out of the 262 pilots who had cheated in this manner, 141 worked for PIA, which employs 450 pilots — more than a third of the workforce. The remaining pilots worked for private airlines.
“These 141 pilots will not be allowed to fly aircraft," Khan said. “Some people say our actions will have a negative impact on the reputation of Pakistan International Airlines but we are taking these measures to ensure the safety of passengers."
Khan insisted that for the past two years — since Prime Minister Imran Khan's government took over — no pilot with a fake license got a job at the PIA.
“We are clearing up the mess that was created by the previous government," he said.
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.