The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has advised Pakistan to undertake “immediate corrective actions” and suspend the issuance of any new pilot licenses in the wake of a scandal over falsified licenses, according to an official and a document seen by the Reuters news agency.
The recommendations from ICAO, a specialised agency of the United Nations that works to ensure safety in international air transport, come days after Pakistan opened a criminal probe into 50 pilots and five civil aviation officials who allegedly helped them falsify credentials to secure pilot licences.
“Pakistan should improve and strengthen its licensing system to ensure that it takes into account all necessary processes and procedures and prevents inconsistencies and malpractices before new licenses are issued and privileges of suspended licenses are re-established,” the ICAO said in a previously unreported letter to the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) last week.
A Pakistani aviation ministry official told Reuters that the country has not issued any new licenses since July, in the wake of the scandal.
A spokesperson for Pakistan’s aviation ministry, who is also a spokesperson for the PCAA, was not immediately available for comment on the ICAO advisory when contacted by Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera reported in July claims by Pakistani pilots that fraud and improper flight certification practices at the country’s civil aviation regulator were rampant, and that air safety has routinely been compromised by airlines through faulty safety management systems, incomplete reporting and the use of regulatory waivers.
Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the country’s largest airline and only major international carrier, was at the centre of most of the air safety complaints, and has denied all of the allegations.
The country’s aviation minister has said that almost a third of all licensed Pakistani pilots had obtained their certifications fraudulently.
A troubled record
His comments came weeks after a PIA passenger jet crashed in May in the southern city of Karachi, killing 98 people.
Pakistan has had a troubled aircraft safety record, with five significant commercial or charter airliner crashes in the last 10 years alone, killing 445 people.
In the same period, there have been numerous other non-fatal safety incidents, including engines shutting down in mid-flight or on takeoff, landing gear failures, runway overruns and on-the-ground collisions, according to official reports and pilot testimony.
In 2019, Pakistan’s aviation industry registered 14.88 accidents per million departures, according to the ICAO, far above the global average of 3.02.
The Montreal-based agency’s recommendations come ahead of an ICAO audit to assess the country’s aviation safety management systems.
The ICAO audit, originally scheduled for November this year, has been moved to June, effectively giving the PCAA more time to work on reforms, the official said.
An ICAO representative declined to comment to Reuters on specific details of the advice to Pakistan, but said in an email that ICAO is “helping Pakistan to recognise concerns, and if they do not take swift action on them we will actively notify other countries about them.”
The pilot scandal has tainted Pakistan’s aviation industry and hurt PIA, which has been barred from flying into Europe and the United States.
In addition to revoking the licenses of 50 pilots, Pakistan has also suspended another 32 pilots for a year.