Confusion abounds

Published July 17, 2020

THE erratic and ham-fisted handling of the scandal over the Pakistani pilots’ licences issue is sowing further confusion. The Civil Aviation Authority, in what seems to be a direct contradiction of Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan’s bombshell revelation a few weeks ago that nearly 40pc of Pakistani pilots had “fake licences”, has said that all licences it has issued to pilots are “genuine and validly issued”.

The assertion was made by CAA Director General Hassan Nasir Jamy in a letter to a senior official of Oman’s aviation authority, which has expressed concerns about the credentials of Pakistani pilots working in Oman-based airlines.

Further, Mr Jamy said that the CAA had verified/cleared the names of “96 Pakistani pilots out of 104 names received from various civil aviation authorities/foreign airlines”. According to him, the matter has been “misconstrued and incorrectly highlighted in the media/social media”.

The allegation against the media is patently untrue, a red herring meant to deflect from what has been a fiasco ever since Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan made his shocking claim on the floor of the National Assembly. He presented as established fact a matter that was still under investigation, saying unequivocally that 262 pilots had had proxies sit their exams. At a press conference a few days later, he gave a breakdown as to which Pakistan-based airlines the pilots concerned were working for, with the rest employed by foreign airlines, chartered plane services and flying clubs.

PIA grounded 150 of its pilots over their allegedly ‘dubious’ licences. In subsequent weeks, news began to trickle in about batches of Pakistani pilots, although only those employed by overseas airlines, being cleared by the CAA of having dubious credentials.

Meanwhile, the reputation of the country’s aviation industry — particularly its flag carrier — and Pakistan’s regulatory authority, has suffered a grievous blow. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency has barred PIA from operating to Europe for six months; the UK and US have also banned PIA flights.

There is also a semantic boondoggle at play here. The CAA is correct in stating that the licences are genuine, in that they have been issued by the authority certified to do so. Some of them may, nevertheless, be dubious. After all, the CAA recently apprised the Supreme Court of the measures it is taking to secure its examination and licensing systems — which is an implicit admission of procedural failures.

What is beyond doubt is that the aviation minister and the CAA are not on the same page. One wonders what Mr Khan’s objective was in publicly levelling such serious allegations when the facts had yet to be established. If it was to ‘expose’ previous governments’ culpability in the decline of the national airline, the resulting earthquake has created a crisis from which the country’s aviation industry will take a long time to recover.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2020

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