Pakistani airlines on Thursday appeared caught by surprise by the aviation minister's disclosure that about 30 percent of commercial pilots in the country possess fake licenses, some of whom are even flying for foreign carriers.
Aviation Minister Sarwar Khan had a day earlier told the National Assembly, while presenting the preliminary findings on last month's crash of Pakistan International Airlines flight 8303, that 262 commercial pilots including 150 working for the national carrier had fake or dubious licenses.
The Civil Aviation Authority has issued some 860 commercial licenses to pilots, nearly half of whom are employed by PIA.
PIA Chief Executive Officer Arshad Malik wrote a letter to the aviation regulator asking for the list of pilots working with airline with fake licenses.
"It is emphasized to provide the requisite list so that immediate action may be initiated within the rules to stop these pilots from flying," Malik wrote in his letter.
PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafeez told Kyodo News that the airline can only take action against them after a formal intimation on this issue by the regulator.
The numbers quoted by the minister were based on an internal inquiry conducted by the aviation ministry long before the May 22 crash in Karachi, which has been blamed on errors by the pilot and air traffic controllers.
Suspicions about the authenticity of the licenses were first raised after it transpired that some of the pilots cited their test dates on weekends or on days they were flying, or were out of country, an official said.
Pakistan has a poor aviation safety record, with five incidents involving crashes of commercial airliners in the past 14 years -- in 2006, 2010, 2012, 2016 and now 2020. Three of them involved PIA.
Hafeez said the disclosure of fake licenses scam has caused a national embarrassment.
He vowed toughest possible measures including stopping nearly one-third of the pilot workforce from flying, saying it would come with serious financial implications for the financially struggling airline.
The spokesman said it needs to be understood that this problem is not just about PIA, and those with fake licenses are also flying aircraft of other airlines in the country and some are working with foreign carriers.