Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan announced on Friday that 262 airline pilots, whose credentials may have been falsified, will be immediately grounded, pending investigations.
The pilots include 141 from Pakistan International Airlines, nine from Air Blue and 10 from Serene Air, Khan said, adding that the remaining were affiliated with flying clubs, chartered plane services or foreign airlines.
The minister said that the airlines and clubs had been conveyed that “their [pilots'] credentials are dubious, and they shouldn't be allowed to fly", adding that the names of all the pilots had also been put up on the Civil Aviation Authority's website.
"These pilots against whom inquiries are being conducted were all recruited before 2018," Khan said, referring to the start of the incumbent government's tenure. "Let me also make clear that after 2018, we did not make any new inductions in PIA or the aviation division or conduct any exams, so whatever this is, it is from the last two terms," he added.
"This government has now set out to rectify the past mistakes," said the minister, adding that not only will the pilots be grounded, he had also decided to suspend five Civil Aviation Authority officials who were found to be involved in the scandal.
"I have their suspension letters ready and we are also consulting the legal team to initiate criminal proceedings against them," said the minister. He added that there were three or four other private persons, who were not affiliated with the CAA but had been found to be involved in the scandal and criminal investigations would be initiated against them too.
The issue of dubious licenses drew global attention after the aviation minister declared in the National Assembly that around 150 pilots from PIA had fake licences.
There are 860 active pilots in the country, he had said, adding that of these, 262 pilots did not even take their exams themselves.
A day earlier, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed had summoned the director general of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to explain allegations of fake licences by some pilots of different airlines of the country who fly passenger aircraft and thus put the lives of people at stake — a serious offence under the law.
The CAA director general is required to furnish a comprehensive report before the Supreme Court within two weeks in this regard and when the case will be taken up again after three weeks, chief executive officers of the PIA, AirBlue and Serene will also appear before the court with reports about the professional qualifications of pilots in their respective airlines.
The credibility of CAA and PIA also took a massive hit when the International Air Transport Association (IATA) expressed concern over the "serious lapse in licensing and safety oversight by the aviation regulator".
Amid the aviation crisis, the PIA management decided to ground 150 pilots and started relieving them from flight rosters for allegedly possessing ‘dubious licences’, while asking the CAA to urgently provide the list of all those who allegedly had fake/suspicious commercial pilot licences.