A third of all pilots in Pakistan are flying with fake licences after paying people to sit their exam for them, it has been revealed.
Ghulam Sargar Khan, the country’s aviation minister, announced the shocking find Wednesday amid a probe into the Karachi plane crash which killed 97 people in May.
Out of 860 pilots currently licenced in Pakistan, investigators identified 262 who ‘did not take the exam themselves’ and ‘don’t have flying experience’, he said.
Pakistan International Airlines, the airline which operated the crashed plane, has today grounded 150 of its pilots who are suspected of having cheated their way through their exam.
Abdullah Hafeez, a spokesman for Pakistan International Airlines, said the airline is now in the process of sacking the pilots.
‘We will make it sure that unqualified pilots never fly aircraft again,’ he said.
Khan made the revelation about licences while presenting preliminary findings to parliament of a probe into the Airbus A320 crash last month.
Pakistan Airlines flight 8303 flight from Lahore crashed as it attempted to land in Karachi on May 22.
The pilots had aborted one landing and were going around for a second attempt when the aircraft dropped into a residential area, killing 97 of the 99 on board.
Announcing the results of a preliminary investigation Wednesday, Khan said ‘overconfident’ pilot Sajjad Gull had attempted to land with the wheels up.
He said Gull and his copilot were ‘distracted’ and talking about coronavirus during the botched landing.
‘The [virus] was on their minds. Their families were affected and they were having a discussion about it,’ Khan said.
The pair had turned autopilot off and ignored repeated warnings from air traffic control that they were descending too fast and from too great an altitude.
Previous analysis of black box recordings also suggest Gull ignored alarms that were sounding in the cockpit as he made the failed landing.
Air traffic control saw the plane’s engines scrape the runway, leaving them damaged, but did not warn the pilot before the plane pulled back into the sky, Khan said.
Both engines then failed, causing the crash.
The report found that the aircraft itself was ‘100 percent fit for flying’, despite being grounded for 46 days prior amid coronavirus lockdown.
Khan did not say whether Gull and his copilot were among those holding fake licences.
Gull had been a pilot for 24 years and had a total of 17,000 hours of flying experience, including 4,700 at the controls of an Airbus A320.
He was thought to be among Pakistan Airlines’ most experienced pilots.
As part of the preliminary report, Khan revealed for the first time that a young girl who was on the ground when the plane crashed was killed.
Two other people who were also on the ground were injured. It was previously thought that nobody on the ground was hurt.
The crash in Karachi marked Pakistan’s worst air accident in eight years.