ISLAMABAD: The federal government has informed the Islamabad High Court (IHC) that to meet the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the authorities have reviewed licences of all 860 commercial pilots and, after a through scrutiny, cancelled only 50 of them.
The pilots were working for the national flag carrier as well as other Pakistani private and foreign airlines, said a report filed by Additional Attorney General Tariq Mehmood Khokhar in response to a petition filed by pilot Syed Saqlain Haider, whose credentials have been found to be fake.
According to the report, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has been given the task to proceed against the pilots who managed to get licences through unfair means.
Giving the background, the report said that the additional director general of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on Jan 25, 2019 requested the aviation secretary for constitution of a board of inquiry to investigate the malpractice, omission/commission observed during the process/conduct of examination for licences of pilots. Subsequently, a board of inquiry was constituted and its report concluded that as per the computer data forensic evidence, licences of 262 pilots were based on “fake” examinations.
IHC urged to hold proceedings on a pilot’s petition
On June 26, 2020 the CAA grounded the 262 pilots and suspended their licences for verification. The names of 262 pilots were made public to avoid any negative impression about other pilots, including those working outside Pakistan.
On June 30, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency suspended PIA flights to and over Europe for six months. Such suspensions are lifted only after a satisfactory on site or remote audit.
The report said that the process of verification of 259 licences had been completed.
After due process, on July 6, a summary for cancellation of licences of 28 pilots was submitted to the federal cabinet, which approved it the next day.
The petitioner’s name has been included in the list of the 28 pilots at serial no. 16.
Vide a complaint dated July 24, the Authority requested the FIA to conduct an inquiry against the suspected CAA officials/persons and pilots involved in the issuance of dubious licences, including the petitioner. The FIA inquiry is still in progress.
On Sept 11, another summary for cancellation of licences of 22 other pilots was submitted to the cabinet, which approved it on 15.
According to the report, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the United Nations agency which oversees safety of international aviation industry, in a letter dated Sept 18 recommended review of all existing licences.
As a result, licences of 860 active pilots were reviewed of which 262 were deemed suspect and suspended. However, after verification, 172 licences were cleared and 50, including the petitioner’s licence, failed verification and were cancelled with the approval of the cabinet.
The report said that licences of two other pilots were cancelled prior to the inquiry into the matter. Licences of 32 others pilots also failed verification and currently remain suspended. Three pilots had died before the inquiry was conducted. Verification of licences of the remaining three pilots is still under process.
Referring to a case pending before the apex court, the report said that in suo motu case No. 1 of 2020 (Covid-19 case) the Supreme Court vide its orders dated June 25, July 21, and Dec 14 was broadly adjudicating upon the same issues which had been raised before the IHC in the instant petition.
The report requested the IHC to put on hold the proceedings of the petition till the final adjudication of the suo motu case by the apex court.
It argued that since the FIA inquiry was in progress in the matter, the implication was that there was prima facie a criminal case against the petitioner and therefore it was premature for him to invoke Article 199 of the Constitution to seek relief.
The report feared that any adverse order at this stage would have far reaching consequences for Pakistan’s aviation sector and airlines as well as the pilots who had been issued licences by the CAA. A large number of pilots of Pakistan origin were presently working for foreign airlines, it added.