RAWALPINDI: The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has suggested to Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to immediately revamp its “pilot licensing system” before issuing new licences and submit a report to it by Oct 2 this year.

According to sources, a total of 36 observations came from the ICAO, which works to ensure safety in international air transport, after the Pakistani authorities launched investigation into dubious licences of 262 pilots and suspended five CAA officials after an initial probe and referred their cases to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for criminal inquiry.

Initially, the ICAO’s audit team had raised 36 observations regarding safety and the Pakistani aviation authorities cleared 26 of those. But now the ICAO has asked for clarifying the remaining 10 concerns which involve technical information relating to the “licensing system”.

ICAO seeks details of measures taken to ensure transparency in licensing, examination systems by Oct 2

A senior official said the ICAO had asked about measures taken by the CAA to ensure a foolproof licensing system, questions put to the candidates under examination syllabus and how the question papers were prepared.

Following the concerns expressed by the ICAO, the Pakistani authorities have revamped the licensing system and also constituted a separate directorate to ensure transparency and make sure a proper procedure is followed while issuing licences and giving examinations.

According to the official, the ICAO has asked the CAA to revamp the licensing system before issuing new licences and sought by Oct 2 details of measures taken by the authority to ensure transparency in the system.

The ICAO also expressed dissatisfaction over the procedure for issuing licences to air traffic controllers, pilots and engineers as well as safety standards opted by the CAA.

The official told Dawn that the CAA had been in contact with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and held several meetings on the issue of ‘dubious licences’. The CAA has not been issuing any new licence since June 26, after Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan disclosed in the National Assembly that there were 860 active pilots in the country and 262 of them held ‘dubious licences’.

The minister’s statement drew global attention towards credibility of the CAA and Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) suffered a setback when IATA expressed concern over the “serious lapse in licensing and safety oversight by the aviation regulator”.

A four-member team of the IATA’s Operational Safety Audit earlier this month carried out a safety assessment of different departments of PIA, including flight operation, ground handling, flight safety, and security and engineering.

Following the ICAO’s fresh move, Pakistan’s aviation division is preparing a reply that will be submitted by Oct 2.

According to sources, the aviation authorities have finalised the inquiry against 262 pilots and issued letters to 180 pilots whose credentials were cleared by the inquiry committee, while 50 licences were cancelled and 32 suspended.

Initially, the aviation authorities had suspended licences of 28 pilots. Seven of them had obtained stay orders from court. Later, licences of 15 more pilots were suspended.

The CAA made some changes in rules while deciding the fate of 262 pilots who had been grounded after the issue of dubious licence emerged in the country.

According to the official, out of the 262 pilots, 85 had been cleared to fly after their suspension was withdrawn as there was a minor issue of violation of schedule against them. Some pilots had been grounded because their names were inaccurately mentioned, he added.

The official said there were 42 individuals who had violated flight duty time limitation. They were issued warnings and their suspension was withdrawn, he added.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2020