Pilot error?

Published Dec 23, 2012 02:58am

“I am capable of flying for any international airline as I have an experience of over two decades with the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA),” says a pilot who has recently been sacked from the national flag carrier for holding a ‘fake’ secondary school certificate.

“It is not my fault. Ask the PIA management why they did not get my certificate verified 20 years ago when I joined as first pilot,” the seemingly unabashed pilot says, further arguing that it is not the SSC certificate that matters in their profession, it is the commercial flying licence issued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

“A pilot primarily gets a job in any airline on the strength of his flying licence and completion of required number of flying hours.”

He is among the other nine pilots the management recently sacked for having fake matriculation or intermediate degrees. PIA spokesman Sultan Hasan confirms that four pilots have been sacked for fake degrees and other issues. However, he is of the view that it is not the degree but the experience of a pilot that matters. “A plane does not fly with degrees,” he insists. “We send degrees of the employees to their respective institutions for verification on their appointment. But we don’t pursue in case (the institutions) don’t respond.” During the last five years, Mr Sultan says over 250 employees in different departments of the airline had been fired for holding fake degrees.

The Pakistan Airlines Pilots’ Association president Capt Suhail Baluch says the sacked senior pilots, having vast experience and thousands of flying hours, are an asset for the national airlines. “We should take care of our assets instead of losing them after huge investment by the airline on their training and grooming.” Capt Baluch further says that a pilot becomes a truly expensive commodity when he/she acquires command of an aircraft; by then the airline has spent at least Rs40 million on his/her training. It is only after such a tedious process that the pilot gets certified to fly a Boeing-777.

“Ironically we are giving away this asset built over years to other airlines which are not bothered what kind of objection he or she has on his intermediate or matriculation certificates acquired years ago. In the field of flying what matters most is the flying license acquisition and subsequent trainings,” he argues.

Baluch believes that there should be punishment in such a case (holding fake degree) but it should not be dismissal as it serves to punish the airline more than the pilot. “We will have to reinvest in new recruits while the sacked pilots will immediately get jobs in private airlines.” At present PIA has over 550 pilots.

While pilots may not have any immediate problems working with PIA, employees of other departments have one major complaint — low salary.

“I am a Group-7 officer and after serving PIA for the last 18 years or so I am just getting Rs50,000,” says one official who told Dawn that lower cadre employees (Groups1 to 4) were really low paid. “Recently 30 per cent of new recruitment in Group-3 as assistants quit their jobs for being low paid. PIA was paying them Rs11,000 per month. It is a myth that PIA employees are sitting pretty in terms of salary.”

A flight attendant points out how low paid employees and crew get lured into dishonest acts. “You see a good number of meal trolleys go missing when planes return from foreign flights. Similarly, smuggling of cigarette packs to European destinations by crew members is common because of its high price there,” she reveals.

She also confidently comments that corruption in PIA is not a crime. “Even those who get caught red-handed get away easily.

There are no checks and balances in this organisation.” However, a few months ago an air hostess was arrested in Lahore for trying to smuggle heroin to a Gulf country. Investigation is underway.

As uncertainty prevails in PIA because of its financial mess and bleak future, the employees also find a difficult working environment. “The union has grown strong during the PPP government and transfers and postings are being done on political grounds,” says one employee. He says only those employees are getting promoted who have “strong political connections.”

Shaukat Jamshed, president of PIA’s engineering association, comments on the over-staffing in the national flag carrier. At present PIA has about 18,000 employees. “The total revenue of PIA spent on employees is between 16 to 18 per cent while foreign airlines spend aorund 33 to 40 per cent on employees. So to say that downsizing is one of the solutions to PIA’s woes is a misconception,” he says. He believes that if downsizing will help improve matters in PIA then engineering, catering and security departments should be outsourced as they are in foreign airlines.

Mr Jamshed, who has been associated with PIA for 40 years, says the management will have to enhance the salary and allowances of technicians as they are getting jobs abroad on handsome salary packages.

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