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.


Born in the KSA: Young and successful, Pakistani creatives recall Saudi childhood

Updated 7 min 21 sec ago

Born in the KSA: Young and successful, Pakistani creatives recall Saudi childhood

  • Filmmaker and producer Emad Khalid Mughal recalls the 'surreal' feeling of growing up surrounded by holy sites
  • Young creatives say that in Pakistan they often have to clear misconceptions about their childhood home in Saudi Arabia

RAWALPINDI: Model Atikah Gardezi, stylist Maryam Raja and producer Emad Khalid Mughal have a lot in common: they’re young, they’re Lahore based, they’re causing a stir in their respective fields, and they all grew up in Saudi Arabia.
Makkah-born Raja lived in Jeddah until age 25 and left for Pakistan three years ago to work for brands such as Zara Shahjahan, Beechtree and Khaadi.
"When I think about growing up in Saudi Arabia, ironically, I think a lot about water, visiting the beautiful Red Sea ... Most people would think desert," she told Arab News laughing.
But the stereotypes which for her need to be fixed are not only related to landscape.
"There’s this idea here that KSA is incredibly conservative and restrictive which, yes in some ways it is more so than here, but the way Pakistanis picture it is a bit off,” she said. “I know it’s not the same for everyone and I speak with some privilege, but over there I felt like I could move more freely, and it helped build up my independence.”

Stylist Maryam Raja at her home in Lahore, Pakistan on Aug. 5, 2020. (Photo courtesy: Maryam Raja)

Her current career, however, might have been impossible in Saudi Arabia.

"Being an expat, even though my parents migrated when they were three and four years old respectively, it continues to be hard getting a job because of the way the visas work," she said.

"It's harder to hire someone who is not a Saudi national. Now I have a career path, very strongly defined in Pakistan."

Correcting misconceptions about the childhood home is also what Mughal, who moved to Pakistan some 10 years ago, keeps on doing. 

"There’s a big misconception that Saudi is just nomads roaming around looking for water or something when in reality it’s been at the forefront of a lot of development and urbanization. There are some crazy mega infrastructure projects going on," he said.

"If people saw beyond the label of it being a traditional country and look at the cities it would probably change their perspectives."

Emad Khalid Mughal, left, and Maryam Raja in Lahore on June 6, 2019. (Photo courtesy: Maryam Raja)

Although born in Kuwait, he spent most of his life in Jeddah and moved to Pakistan to pursue his bachelor's degree. He recalled the "surreal" feeling of always being surrounded by holy sites in his Saudi childhood.
"All the holy sites are around the corner it’s a surreal way to grow up," he told Arab News. "It’s such a privilege because some people, right here in Pakistan, work their whole lives to get there and we had them, sometimes walking distance from us."
A decade into his life in Lahore and with a number successful projects in his resume, like editing films such as "Yaalghaar," "Ashen Streets," the 30-year-old says he is still missing his Saudi life.
“It’s the food I miss the most, but also the lifestyle," he said.
Unlike Mughal and Raja, Gardezi, who became a professional model in Pakistan, knew that Pakistan would someday become her home.

Model Atikah Gardezi in Lahore, Pakistan, April 1, 2020. (Photo courtesy: Atikah Gardezi)

“I always felt like an outsider in Saudi even being born and raised there," said the 28-year-old born in Makkah.
That strangeness, however, is something she continues to feel, though on different levels.
"That is something I feel in Pakistan now," she said, adding that she while was "too Pakistani for Saudi Arabia," now she feels "too Arab for Pakistan."

Atikah Gardezi and her mother on a road trip to Abha, Saudi Arabia in November 1995. (Photo courtesy: Atikah Gardezi)

But she says she remembers her Saudi childhood as diverse and inclusive: "My favorite thing about growing up in Saudi was the diaspora community we built in the building I grew up in."
This sense of community is what she is struggling to find in Pakistan.
"What’s different here is the lack of community. Moving here I realized things like your position in society mattered a great deal to the culture here, what you wore and who you were friends with. For me personally that was not the case in Makkah."