Pakistani carrier fires 28 pilots over fake licenses scandal

In this file photo, staff of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) talk with passengers at a PIA office in Karachi on Feb. 27, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 08 July 2020

Pakistani carrier fires 28 pilots over fake licenses scandal

  • 262 pilots are currently grounded in Pakistan
  • An inquiry last month revealed that 260 of 860 pilots in Pakistan had cheated on their pilots exams

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s national carrier is firing 28 pilots found to have tainted licenses, the company’s spokesman said Wednesday, the latest chapter in a scandal that emerged in the wake of the Airbus A320 crash in Karachi in May.
An inquiry into the May 22 crash that killed 97 people on board resulted in the stunning revelation that 260 of 860 pilots in Pakistan had cheated on their pilots exams, but were still given licenses by the Civil Aviation Authority.
The government later fired five officials of the regulatory agency and criminal charges against them are being considered. According to news reports Wednesday, 262 pilots are currently grounded in Pakistan.
The scandal has shocked the nation, 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.
The revelations of tainted pilot licenses have also embarrassed the government and shaken the top ranks of Pakistan International Airlines.
The European Union’s aviation safety agency and the United Kingdom subsequently banned PIA from flying into Europe for at least six months following revelations that nearly a third of Pakistani pilots had cheated on their exams. Pakistani pilots flying with European airlines have also been grounded while their credentials are being verified.
“We are really hurting,” said PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafeez.
He told The Associated Press that 17 of the 28 sacked pilots were already grounded in January last year, after an aircraft skidded off the runway in northern Pakistan. An internal inquiry into that accident, which did not result in any injuries, questioned the licenses being issued by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority.
However, Hafeez said the 17 pilots have since been paid $1.7 million in salaries after a court ruled that PIA could not dismiss them until an investigation into their qualifications had been completed.
Opposition politicians have sharply criticized Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government for going public with the report’s findings of widespread cheating on exams taken by pilots. The government replied saying Khan was cleaning up the corruption left behind by past governments in Pakistan.
The national airline, once considered among the finest, has deteriorated over the decades as successive governments doled out patronage by giving jobs at PIA to supporters. As a result — at roughly 450 employees to each of its 31 aircraft — PIA has one of the word’s highest employee to aircraft ratio in the industry. Most airlines have less than 200 employees per aircraft. The ratio is considered a key benchmark in calculating an airline’s productivity.
When the International Monetary Fund gave Pakistan a $6 billion loan, it demanded an audit of PIA by the end of 2019, a deadline that was missed.
In an effort to stop the financial hemorrhage, Hafeez said the airline is restructuring with a business plan that will eventually reduce the numbers of employees to 7,000 and increase the numbers of aircraft to 45. Nearly 3,500 employees will be laid off through early retirement and attrition, said Hafeez,
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 begins anti-polio campaign amid steady decline in coronavirus cases

Updated 35 min 52 sec ago

Pakistan begins anti-polio campaign amid steady decline in coronavirus cases

  • 34 million children under the age of five will be vaccinated in 130 districts across the country in August
  • Pakistan's anti-polio efforts were halted in March and resumed only last month amid a decline in infections and fatalities from COVID-19

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani health officials over the weekend launched a seven-day vaccination campaign against polio in efforts to eliminate the disease amid a steady decline in coronavirus cases, which had recently overwhelmed the country’s health system.

During the week-long drive, Pakistan Polio Eradication Program aims to vaccinate 34 million children under the age of five in 130 districts. The country's efforts against polio were halted in March and resumed only last month as the COVID-19 infection started to decrease. On Saturday, Pakistan reported only nine new deaths from the virus. The country's total COVID-19 tally was 288,047, with 6,162 related deaths as of Saturday evening.

The anti-polio campaign started on Thursday in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and was launched on Saturday in Punjab and Sindh. On Monday, vaccination will begin in Balochistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

A health worker gives a polio vaccine to a baby girl at a slum area in Lahore on Aug. 15, 2020. (AP)

“The August campaign is much bigger than the last campaign held in July, we are hoping to reach many more vulnerable children. I was encouraged with the success of our last campaign, particularly how parents cooperated with vaccinators despite the COVID-19 environment, and how our vaccinators followed the COVID-19 safety precautions they were trained on," Dr. Rana Safdar, who heads the government's polio program, said as this month's mass vaccination commenced. 

He added that similar campaigns against polio will be launched in October, November and December.

Dr. Faisal Sultan, the prime minister's special assistant on public health, expressed hope that parents "will continue to realize the importance of vaccinating their children during this campaign in August and help our nation ultimately end the threat of polio." 

"It is imperative that Pakistan continues its fight against polio with an already accessible, safe and widely used vaccine that has saved countless children from polio worldwide," he said.

A health worker gives a polio vaccine to a child at a slum area in Lahore on Aug. 15, 2020. (AP)

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the three countries in the world where polio — a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the polio virus — is still endemic. Since January, Pakistan has reported about 100 new polio cases in various parts of the country.

Polio is a highly infectious disease mainly affecting children under the age of five years. It invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from the disease.