Pakistan national airline grounds third of pilots over 'dubious' licences

A Pakistan International Airlines plane prepares to land at Islamabad airport in Islamabad - Reuters
A Pakistan International Airlines plane prepares to land at Islamabad airport in Islamabad - Reuters

Pakistan's national airline will ground a third of its pilots on suspicion they hold “dubious” licences and flying certificates.

The move was announced after air accident investigators blamed a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) pilot for last month's crash in Karachi which killed 99 people.

A government minister said the crew were over confident and distracted by a conversation about coronavirus when the PIA Airbus A320 crashed on May 22.

PIA was highly placed among world airlines until the 1970s, but its reputation has sunk with delays, cancellations and financial troubles. The airline has been embarrassed by reports of pilots falling asleep, or turning up drunk.

"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 Khan told Reuters.

Investigations into pilot qualifications began after an earlier crash where it was found the pilot's license may have been fake. The test date indicated on his licence had been a public holiday. Another pilot was found to have been out of the country on the day he was said to have been tested, Mr Khan said.

In 2017 a PIA pilot was investigated for potentially putting the lives of more than 305 passengers at risk by putting a trainee pilot in charge while he took a nap in a passenger seat. The pilot was allegedly photographed reclining while covered in a blanket, but denied being asleep.

In 2013, a PIA pilot was jailed for nine months in Britain for being drunk as he prepared to fly 156 passengers.

Irfan Faiz, 55, was found three times over the legal limit, prosecutors told Leeds Crown Court.

The father-of-two was unsteady on his feet and smelled of alcohol while in the cockpit during checks for the flight from Leeds Bradford to Islamabad.

The airlines was embarrassed further in 2017 when first UK border officials and then Pakistani officials found consignments of heroin hidden on PIA flights between the countries. At the time the airline was investigating to see if any staff had links to drug traffickers.