Vietnam suspends Pakistani pilots over suspect licences

Vietnam’s domestic airlines asked to ground Pakistani pilots after report says 262 of them hold fraudulent licences.

VietJet aircraft's pilots prepare inside the cockpit before a flight at Noi Bai International airport in Hanoi, Vietnam [Kham/Reuters]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Vietnam’s civil aviation authority has grounded all Pakistani pilots flying for Vietnamese airlines, as global aviation regulators respond to revelations by Pakistani authorities last week that more than 250 pilots had been granted licences fraudulently.

Pakistan’s aviation minister said last week that 262 of the country’s 860 active pilots had obtained their credentials fraudulently by having someone else take their exams, administered by the Pakistani civil aviation regulator.

On Monday, the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV) issued a statement saying it had instructed all domestic airlines to immediately suspend pilots granted licences by Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA).

“Vietnamese airlines [have been] requested [to] temporarily suspend flight schedules for the above pilots until further notice,” said the statement.

There are currently 27 Pakistani pilots registered to fly for Vietnamese airlines, 12 of whom are active, the CAAV said.

Eleven of those pilots fly for Vietjet Air, and one for Jetstar Pacific. A further 15 pilots are registered but no longer hold contracts with Vietnamese airlines.

A majority of the suspended 262 Pakistani pilots flew for the country’s state-owned Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), which said its operations would be “crippled” by the move.

Vietnamese authorities said they would coordinate with Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority to verify and review the 27 pilots’ credentials.

A Vietjet Air Airbus A320 lands at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, Vietnam [File: EPA]

Pilots’ body disputes report

Following the revelations by Pakistani Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan in parliament last week, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a multilateral UN body that coordinates between aviation regulators, said countries would have to evaluate the safety risks presented.

“Any international implications of this development will be subject to each country’s individual assessment of the safety risks it presents,” said a statement emailed to Al Jazeera. “Countries are sovereign in such matters.”

The Pakistan Air Line Pilots Association (PALPA), a body that represents pilots across Pakistan, has disputed some of the findings of the aviation ministry’s inquiry, claiming that the list of 262 pilots includes some who had not committed fraud.

A government investigation into the authenticity of the pilots’ licences continues, pending which all pilots have been suspended from flying for Pakistani domestic airlines.

The initial inquiry was spurred by an investigation into an airliner incident in November 2018, when a PIA-operated Embraer ATR-72 aircraft skidded off the runway in the southwestern town of Panjgur. No one was hurt in the incident, but a subsequent inquiry found the pilot’s licence had been issued on a public holiday.

Further investigations led to 17 Pakistani pilots being suspended in January 2019, suspected of committing fraud.

On June 25, the aviation minister revealed that a longer investigation had found that almost a third of all pilots licensed by the country’s civil aviation authority had obtained their documents fraudulently, mainly by using someone else to sit for their examinations.

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim

Source: Al Jazeera