After revelations surfaced that as many as 262 of the 860 commercial pilots in Pakistan are not really certified to fly, I wrote an op-ed calling for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to be blacklisted until a full investigation was completed. A PIA pilot whose credentials are now being questioned reached out to me to provide his perspective on why the picture being presented to the public is incomplete. This PIA “fake” pilot makes a compelling point.
PIA Pilot: I’m On The Fake Pilot List And Horrified
The pilot has asked to remain anonymous for the time being, though I have verified his identity as a PIA first officer. He reached out me after learning his name was on the suspect list and then finding my article about it online. Primary among his concerns is that the public has not been made aware of the specifics of what are being alleged.
This is not a matter of “fake” pilots taking to the skies. Rather, it is a matter of certification for captain.
In Pakistan, there are three levels of pilots:
- Private Pilot License (PPL) – for personal use; allows you fly an aircraft without charging any money
- Commercial Pilot License (CPL) – for anyone who wants to become a pilot by profession. This allows you to get paid, and fly any aircraft as a first officer (co-pilot) or fly any aircraft as a captain provided the aircraft’s weight is less than 5700 kilograms
- Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) – the highest category of license that a pilot obtains; a requirement to fly any aircraft which weights more than 5700 kilograms as a captain.
Many nations divide pilots into these three classifications, though precise definitions and requirements vary by country. To obtain each license a minimum number of flight hours and written exams are required.
An Issue Of Timing
The PIA pilot explained that many pilots now find their credentials being questioned over an issue of timing.
“Our reputation has been demolished thanks to an overzealous minister who made a statement without any fact checking. Just to give you the other side, the criteria for judging whether a license is dubious by our Civil Aviation Authority is anyone who operated a flight the same day they appeared in a written exam. I am one such case.”
The pilot is a first officer who holds a CPL, not an ATPL. He explained that he took the first of his eight ATPL written exams on the same day he operated a flight. This triggered an automatic red flag and makes him one of the 262 suspects.
“I operated a flight from Lahore to Karachi in the morning, went straight to the examination center in Karachi and gave my first ATPL exam. I passed. There is a record of me signing in on an attendance sheet with the time I walked in (I was late due to the flight, though I received no extra time to complete my paper). They supposedly have camera footage of me at the examination hall. I have since not appeared in any more exams. Still got seven more to go. Therefore, I don’t even possess the fake license I’m alleged to have!”
PIA Fake Pilot License? I Never Claimed To Have It!
He’s a first officer on a Boeing 777. He has not completed his ATPL yet because, as he put it, he does not need to. Now he is accused of having a fake license he has never held or purported to hold.
“There are dozens and dozens of pilots on this list that I can confirm have similar circumstances. People who have appeared during the day in the exam and operated a flight in the evening. For many of us based in cities where there aren’t exam centers it is easier to combine our exams with a flight to Karachi where exams are held daily, because we are unable to squeeze the days off required to fly there and appear for the papers in between flights.”
So in short, one suspect is a trained pilot with both his PPL and CPL and now stands accused of faking his ATPL, a license he has never claimed to have. Others are simply being accused of faking exams because they flew on the same day they took the exam, something that is demonstrably possible.
This “counterpoint” does not bury the issue, especially since several pilots at PIA have allegedly already come forward and admitted to holding fake credentials. But it does appear that there is more to the story and some pilots have been falsely accused.
I asked him why he reached out to me and quite candidly, he said:
“Our colleagues who are working abroad are going to lose their jobs. We might lose our jobs here. All over something unbelievably ridiculous and an abhorently reckless statement by our aviation minister. You’re a journalist, please uncover the story here.”
I’m just a blogger who loves writing about air travel, but his story sounds plausible to me and I am happy to share it here. As the situation develops, I hope he can go on the record and share more insight concerning what is going on at PIA.