SC briefed on CAA steps over pilots licences

Updated 12 Jul 2020

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The report said, the CCTV camera system had been installed for the monitoring of examination room at Karachi and Islam­abad. — Photo courtesy Supreme Court website/File
The report said, the CCTV camera system had been installed for the monitoring of examination room at Karachi and Islam­abad. — Photo courtesy Supreme Court website/File

ISLAMABAD: The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on Saturday informed the Supreme Court that the authority had restricted access to its licensing and examination system after the recent disclosure about dubious pilot licences.

Only the authorised systems located at the pilot licensing branch and examination hall, Islamabad, had access to the examination application server, the CAA stated in a report furnished before the apex court in a case relating to the suo motu hearing of government efforts to contain the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

At the previous hearing on June 25, the SC had summoned the CAA director gen­eral and sought an exp­l­a­nation regarding the all­eg­ed issuance of dubious/fake lic­e­nces to the pilots who flew passenger aircraft of different airlines, thus putting the lives of people at stake.

In response, CAA DG Hassan Nasir Jamy furnished the report before the court explaining that a security firewall had been configured to only authorise designated system or clients to create connection with the licensing and examination application server, whereas the connections from other systems had been blocked completely.

Aviation regulator says access to exam, licensing system has been restricted; gaps being plugged with additional measures

To prevent misuse of the system after office hours, the application server would remain shut down and no examination could be executed after office hours, it said, adding that network printers had been installed in the examination halls where the marks sheet would be signed by both examinee and examiner after each exam.

And to protect the examination workstation from malicious code, malware and viruses, an antivirus system was installed besides biometric authentication for the examination system was integrated with the existing running system as isolated outer layer at the Karachi centre, but the Islamabad centre was still pending due to limitation of running system of hardware capacity, it added.

Biometric identification

Moreover, the report said, the CCTV camera system had been installed for the monitoring of examination room at Karachi and Islam­abad. It said the total number of pilots in employment in the Pakistan International Airlines Corporation (PIAC) was 450. The CAA had requested the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) through the controlling division of the federal government to develop a system for the integration with Automated Biometric Identification Solutions (ABIS) to minimise the chance of reoccurrence of future unauthorised access to the CAA personnel licensing system for technical examination.

Recalling the 2018 direction of the Supreme Court for verification of degrees and certificates of the pilots holding commercial licences and cabin crew, the report mentioned that the CAA had undertaken an exercise and completed it in January 2019.

During this exercise, 16 pilots were identified with fake educational certificates and suspended, but they opted for a right of appeal and on verification of having valid equivalent qualification, the suspension of eight pilots was withdrawn.

During the verification process, the CAA also initiated a process for the scrutiny of pilots licensing record. The CAA identified certain anomalies in the computerised data of pilots’ technical examination. Consequently, for flight safety concerns, the CAA initially suspended 28 pilots and later 54 pilots.

Lately, the Board of Inquiry (BOI) identified 262 suspended pilots, including the 54 earlier suspended, who had access to the CAA computerized technical system.

The report also explained the procedural irregularities highlighted by the BOI such as pilots not having attempted papers on a scheduled date or scheduled time, CAA examination server being accessed from a different IP address or by a different user name and password, or the pilot flight logbook indicating that the pilots concerned were operating flight on the scheduled date of papers.

The report, however, assured the court that the CAA re-verified the credentials of 208 suspected pilots who have already been grounded before the issuance orders under the Rule 342(2) of the Civil Aviation Authority Rules, 1994.

The BOI during the forensic audit had not confronted the 262 suspected pilots with the incriminating evidence against them, the report said, adding that to ensure due process of law, the suspected pilots were provided with the right to appeal.

The CAA explained that it forwarded a summary to the federal cabinet for the cancellation of licence of 28 of the 54 pilots who had earlier been suspended in exercise of the power conferred under CAA Rules, 1994.

Moreover, 34 of the remaining 208 suspected pilots had been issued suspension order with a right to appeal before forwarding the summary to the federal government.

Similarly, Airblue, a private airline, also furnished a report before the Supreme Court highlighting that nine pilots in the airline were possessing suspected licences as per the list provided by the aviation ministry. Of them, seven pilots had already left the airline in 2014, 2015 and 2018.

During the years 2018-19, it said, 100 pilots were working in the Airblue Ltd. Their educational certificates and degrees were sent for verification and as per report of the relevant institutions the educational certificates and degrees of 98 pilots were found correct and genuine, it said, adding that the educational documents of two pilots were found to be bogus.

Later services of both pilots were terminated by the management, the report said, adding that at present 85 pilots were working with the Airblue and none of them possessed suspected educational documents or dubious licence.

Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2020