A government inquiry has found that more than 30 percent of all active pilots in Pakistan have fake licences or cheated on their exams, highlighting a major flight safety issue.
The government inquiry was launched after Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight 8303 from Lahore crashed shortly before landing at Karachi International Airport last month.
The Airbus A320-200 crashed on 22nd May in a densely populated neighbourhood a few miles short of the runway when both of the plane engines failed on second approach after a failed initial landing.
Of the 99 passengers and crew members on board the plane, 97 were killed with only two passengers surviving the crash. One person died on the ground, with another eight injured.
An inquiry was launched into the causes of the crash, of which Pakistan’s aviation minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan has now briefed parliament on the initial findings.
It highlights some extraordinary errors and substantial safety lapses by both air traffic control and the pilots.
Air traffic control
Investigators found that during the failed first landing the PIA aeroplane was flying at twice the correct altitude. When air traffic control advised the pilots to do a go-around and make another attempt, the pilots decided to try to land anyway.
With raised landing gear, the plane scratched the runway, severely damaging both engines of the Airbus A320-200.
Although air traffic control saw the sparks coming off the plane fuselage and engines, it did not report this back to the pilots.
When the two pilots of PIA flight 8303 went around and attempted a second landing, both engines failed. Bizarrely, the pilots seemed to be more preoccupied with discussing COVID-19 than safely landing the plane.
Mr Khan said: “The pilot and co-pilot were not focused and throughout they were having a conversation about corona. The [virus] was on their minds. Their families were affected and they were having a discussion about it.
“Unfortunately the pilot was overconfident.”
Perhaps more worryingly there seems to be an overall culture of corruption and a lack of general safety standards within Pakistan’s national aviation authority as well as within the management of the country’s airlines.
Mr Khan said that an inquiry found that 262 out of Pakistan’s 860 active pilots had either fake licences or cheated on their exams. The number includes several pilots of Pakistan International Airlines, the country’s flag carrier.
Pakistan International Airlines has a long history of fatal accidents. Although some of these crashes should be seen in context (many incidents happened in the mountainous north of the country which has notoriously difficult airport approaches and weather challenges) it does paint a bleak picture of the overall safety culture of the airline.
It is however not only PIA which has a problematic safety record, as other commercial Pakistani airlines such as Airblue also have a history of fatal crashes.
I’ve visited Pakistan many years ago and was told many times by locals how unreliable and unsafe their national airline is. Many people in Pakistan knew for much longer about the huge flight safety lapses and therefore solely fly with foreign carriers on their international trips, especially with airlines such as Emirates and Qatar Airways which have a big presence in the country.
Pakistan is a surprisingly wonderful country to visit and it has some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met. If I would however return to the country I would think twice before taking a flight with a Pakistani airline even though I doubt that statistically flying is that much more unsafe than taking a bus journey on the country’s hazardous roads.
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