Capt Amir Hashmi catches up on his sleep in the passenger compartment.
Capt Amir Hashmi catches up on his sleep in the passenger compartment.

KARACHI: A couple of weeks ago, a senior pilot of the Pakistan International Airlines operating the Islamabad to London flight (PK-785) handed over the aircraft to an under-training pilot soon after the take-off and took a two-and-a-half-hour nap in the passenger compartment, compromising air safety and putting the lives of over 305 passengers at risk.

According to sources, the airline was initially reluctant to take action against the senior pilot, Amir Akhtar Hashmi, a former president of the highly influential Pakistan Air Lines Pilots Association (PALPA), but later caved in to “pressure from above”.

PIA spokesperson Danyal Gilani told Dawn that Capt Amir Hashmi was off from flying duty due to the investigation under way, but refused to share any further details.

Sources said that on April 26, 2017 Mr Hashmi was in charge of operating the London-bound PK-785 along with first officer Ali Hassan Yazdani. Another first officer, Mohammad Asad Ali, who was under training, was also present in the cockpit. Mr Hashmi, an instructor, gets paid over Rs100,000 each month to train pilots, and was supposed to train Mr Ali during the flight. However, instead of performing his duty, Mr Hashmi went for a quick lie-down.

Spokesperson says inquiry is under way

The sources said over 305 passengers — 293 in the economy class and 12 in the club class — were on board. During the journey, Mr Hashmi had left Mr Ali in control of the flight, while the regular first officer, Mr Yazdani, sat in the observer’s seat in the cockpit. Mr Hashmi apparently strolled over to the business class cabin, pulled a blanket over himself and went to sleep.

The sources said that the issue would have gone unnoticed but one of the passengers saw the uniformed pilot sleeping. Upon learning about who he was, the passenger raised a hue and cry and eventually the senior purser (air hostess) had to mention his complaint in her report (flight log).

According to the sources, senior purser Nazneen Haider’s report said: “Passenger (Seat 1 D) complained that while the captain was sleeping in business class cabin, I (the passenger) do not feel safe. It had been explained that two other crew members were in the cockpit but he said that he would follow the matter and write down a complaint card as well.”

Both the first officers, in a bid to protect Mr Hashmi, had not reported the incident to the management.

Initially, the airline had tried to put off an inquiry into the incident but eventually had to succumb to pressure from concerned ministry higher-ups in Islamabad and Mr Hashmi was taken off flight duty.

This is not the first time Mr Hashmi has compromised the air safety of passengers. During his tenure as PALPA president, he had many times flown long-haul transatlantic flights without resting for the prescribed duration before the start of the journey, and gotten away with it.

In June 2009, a similar incident had occurred with a European airliner whose pilot had retired to the passenger cabin, leaving the aircraft (Airbus 330) in the control of an under-training pilot, who could not negotiate an emergency and crashed the aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean killing over 200 passengers on board.

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2017