There Could Be More To The PIA Pilot Scandal Than Meets The Eye

There was shocking news from Pakistan yesterday when Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) confirmed it had suspended 150 pilots over concerns about the authenticity with their licenses. However, Capt. Jack Netskar, the President of the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA), believes the situation is not quite as meets the eye.

The PIA pilot scandal has a lot more layers to it. Photo: Getty Images

A weird situation for the oversight authority

Simple Flying spoke with Capt. Netskar of IFALPA on the claims made by Pakistani authorities on fraudulent licenses. In his words, Capt. Netskar believes that is is “difficult to be very specific about that number.” This is based on his conversations with the Pakistani arm of the organization.

But, moreover, he stated that the oversight authority is not absolved.

“It was really, really surprising that this came out yesterday in conjunction with the preliminary report of the accident. It’s kind of a weird situation, where it puts the oversight authority in a place they don’t want to be. So, either the Civil Aviation Authority doesn’t have the full control of their licensing process, or it is some scam on the other end, but anywhow, this is not something that you should experience, ever.”

He stressed that, if this is the case, then there is an oversight issue. Moreover, he also believes that there is the potential to fix this issue. He states that there is an option to look into this with external representation, which could shed additional light on the investigation.

One of the big concerns now is what Pakistan does. While suspending pilots over dubious qualifications is one of the main actions being taken, there appears to be more than meets the eye, since the onus is now on the oversight authority to rectify something.

The information came to light alongside a preliminary accident report on the PIA A320 crash from earlier this year. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Flickr

For now, however, the relationship between the Pakistan Air Line Pilots’ Association (PALPA) has faced some tense relations with PIA. IFALPA always maneuvers by the local association, which creates difficulty in getting to grips with the problem. The current airline crisis, however, has not rectified much of the situation – only made it worse.

Moreover, this is not the first time that PIA has faced these kinds of claims. In January of 2019, PIA dismissed five pilots who flew without licenses. Shortly thereafter, the airline fired more staff over fake qualifications.

There are also ICAO standards to keep in mind

With some expressing concerns about aviation safety in Pakistan, Capt. Netskar stresses that there are ICAO safety audits that examine the entire state’s safety system. Pakistan is a member state of the ICAO and has to meet certain safety standards.

PIA A320
Pakistan does have to adhere to international safety regulations. Photo: Aasif Azaan via Wikimedia Commons

Also, Pakistan’s airlines have been able to operate to many different countries. This includes permission to conduct repatriation flights from the United States. In order to fly to the US, countries must meet strict FAA safety standards, which some countries, such as Malaysia, have not yet met.

Relating to the initial accident report

IFALPA has a strong representation around the globe with organizations in almost 100 countries. The federation has requested to be a part of the investigation. Capt. Netskar believes that there is value to bringing an accredited investigator from IFALPA onboard to look at safety from the outside.

His biggest takeaway on aviation safety is that the investigation should make flying safer and that an incident like this should never happen again.

PIA Boeing 777-200
From the PIA investigation, Capt. Netskar wants to get to the bottom of the incident, with a full investigation, that makes sure flying becomes safer. Photo: Getty Images

Thus far, he believes that the report thus far is following the correct path. While there are still plenty of questions left to be answered and a full investigation is still pending, he believes that the report follows principles of being a systemic approach and not turning into a blame game.

While it is still too early to know what really happened with flight 8303, the focus now is to make sure it never happens again.