A third of airline pilots in Pakistan have fake licenses, the nation’s aviation minister said while citing pilot error for a recent crash

Security personnel stand beside the wreckage of a plane at the site after a Pakistan International Airlines aircraft crashed in a residential area days before, in Karachi on May 24, 2020. Asif Hassan/AFP via Getty Images
  • More than 30% of commercial airline pilots in Pakistan have fake licenses, the country’s aviation minister said.
  • The revelation came as a new report blamed pilot error for a crash in May that killed 97 people near Karachi.
  • 262 of the country’s 860 commercial pilots have been grounded due to the illegitimate licenses.
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More than 30% of civilian commercial pilots in Pakistan have fake licenses and are not fully qualified to fly passenger planes, the country’s aviation minster said on Wednesday.

The shocking revelation came as part of the investigation into the crash of a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) jet in May. PIA flight 8303 crashed near Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, killing 97 people.

The revelation came alongside a preliminary report announcing the results of the crash investigation. Pilot error was cited – the two pilots were chatting about the coronavirus pandemic during sensitive parts of the landing procedure, and repeatedly ignored warnings from air traffic controllers.

In an address to Pakistan’s National Assembly, the aviation minister, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, said that 262 of the 860 active commercial airline pilots in the country “did not take the exam themselves,” according to CNN, referring to certification tests. The pilots in question had reportedly paid others to sit the exam for them.

“They don’t have flying experience,” Khan added.

The 860 pilots flew for Pakistan International Airways – the nation’s flagship carrier – as well as low-cost domestic airlines and foreign carriers.

PIA grounded all of its pilots with illegitimate licenses, the airline said in a statement.

“PIA acknowledges that fake licenses is not just a PIA issue but spread across the entire Pakistani airline industry,” airline spokesperson Abdullah Khan told CNN.

It was not immediately clear whether the pilots involved in the crash had legitimate pilot licenses.

“The pilots were discussing corona throughout the flight. They were not focused. They talked about the coronavirus and how their families were affected,” Khan, the aviation minister, said, according to CNN.

Khan added that the pilots were instructed several times by air traffic controllers to abort their landing attempt because the plane was too high, “but the captain did not pay any heed to these instructions.”

The pilots proceeded with the attempted landing, but failed to properly lower the landing gear.

“The aircraft touched the runway surface on its engines,” the crash report said, causing sparks and damage. The pilots tried to climb back into the air, but the damaged engines failed, causing the crash.

Both Pakistan International Airlines and Pakistan’s larger airline industry have had a spotty safety record over the years, with several incidents including another fatal crash within the past decade.