Insanity: 150 Pakistan International Airlines Pilots May Have Fake Licenses

Filed Under: Other Airlines

Yesterday I wrote about how Pakistan’s Minister for Aviation shared preliminary findings of last month’s Pakistan International Airlines crash, which killed nearly 100 people.

In this post I wanted to address what’s perhaps the most shocking part of this story, which I only mentioned in passing in yesterday’s story.

Nearly a third of Pakistani pilots have fake licenses

Yesterday Pakistan’s Minister for Aviation revealed that 262 of 860 pilots in Pakistan have “fake” licenses. Yep, that means about 30% of pilots in Pakistan shouldn’t actually be flying.

What exactly does it mean to have a “fake” license? Well, it’s believed that these pilots didn’t pass exams themselves, but rather paid someone else to take an exam for them. As the Minister explains, “they don’t have flying experience.”

As he describes it, “pilots were also appointed on political basis, unfortunately merit was ignored while appointing pilots.”

While this was revealed during the presentation of the findings of the crash of PK8303, it hasn’t been revealed whether either of the pilots in question had fake licenses.

PIA is grounding 150 pilots

Pakistan International Airlines is the largest airline in Pakistan, though not the only one (there’s also Serene Air and Air Blue). It has been revealed that 150 pilots at PIA are believed to hold fake credentials.

The airline has acknowledged this, and has made the following statement:

“PIA acknowledges the AAIB report and have already taken measures learning from it. An independent Flight Data Monitoring setup established to monitor & analyze all flights. All pilots with dubious licenses will be grounded. Safety is more imp. than any commercial interest”

It’s kind of hard to come to terms with this:

  • The airline has in the past fired a few pilots for having fake degrees, long before this current situation; I can’t imagine this comes as a surprise
  • While it’s perhaps true that “safety is more important than any commercial interest” (because commercial interests aren’t important — the airline loses a boatload of money), I don’t think anyone can argue that safety has been prioritized over political connections at this airline
  • We’ve in the past seen isolated incidents where one or two pilots at an airline were found to have fake credentials, but to see this problem on such a widespread basis is shocking

This raises a simple question — if Pakistan can’t be trusted to oversee the pilot certification process, why aren’t virtually all countries banning airlines from Pakistan? The European Union bans all kinds of airlines over safety concerns, and I don’t see how PIA and others shouldn’t be on the list.

Bottom line

About 30% of pilots in Pakistan lack the qualifications to be pilots. Among those, about 150 PIA pilots have been grounded as an investigation is being done.

PIA has long been a mess of an airline, but this goes way beyond that. This should really lead to more countries banning flights from PIA, until the national airline gets its situation under control.

  1. Imagine the free-for-all of accusations if other countries were to ban Pakistan airlines — its likely Pakistan is NOT the only country with this problem…

  2. I’m not questioning your reporting, Ben. However, should this be true (which I honestly hope is not…because they have placed lives at severe risk) then this airline should be avoided. Effective immediately. Absolutely disgraceful.

  3. I think the whole airline has to be banned, dismantled and the ministry of transportation has to be reformed. This needs to have far-reaching consequences. It’s unheard of really. When you listen to the ATC of the recent crash, then it makes sense the pilots react like they did, they didn’t had a clue what to do!

  4. Madness and it’s not just the passengers/crew on the plane been flown by a fake pilot but other aircraft in the airspace that would be in danger. I hope a worldwide review is carried out and all pilots are identity checked against there commercial licenses, not sure I would want to know the outcome though!

  5. I have seen airlines getting screwed up for not having planes fit for flying but pilots?! OMG, that’s horrifying. Thank goodness PIA hasn’t operated the 737MAX yet or else you’d see these MAXes falling out from the sky once every 6 months when they were deemed fit for flying lol. And if that’s the case with PIA (The National Carrier of Pakistan), nervous flyers are gonna throw a fit when SereneAir and Airblue reveal their statistics. Jesus Christ, these dudes have been playing around with planes like 5-year-old kids. This is a whole different level of insanity. Remember when SriLankan Airlines’ management was corrupted as heck but they never managed to bring in ‘fake’ pilots. Jeez, Grow up PIA.

  6. Given that the situation is political in nature, it’s likely that all Pakistani airlines have this issue. Another great reason not to go there. Ever.

  7. Gene, Ben has in fact flown PIA, as have I.

    PIA has multiple systemic issues, the biggest of which that it has been used as a political jobs engine for the last forty years. It used to be an excellent airline. The current management came from the Pakistani military and they have been improving things, but they are hamstrung by quite frankly ludicrous laws and labor contracts that don’t allow them to fire people easily, as well as top to bottom corruption issues from techs stealing fuel to . They need to go back to recruiting retired Air Force pilots to fly the planes, which I’m sure they still do some of, but it needs to be their main source. I have argued before on another forum that their service standards monitoring needs to be outsourced to a third party not based in Pakistan until their quality standards are up to the level that they can be trusted. Working with the ME3 would be risky given they’re competition, so maybe Singapore Airlines?

  8. Doug R – those “other third world fake medical degree ‘doctors’ practicing medicine in the United States, the West” must first pass stringent medical exams before doing so.
    Nice try.

  9. from Wikipedia… they were once banned:

    “…..With the induction of long-range 777 aircraft in its fleet, PIA started offering non-stop flights from Toronto to Karachi, Islamabad, and Lahore from 3 March 2006. PIA had also planned non-stop flights to New York City, Chicago, Washington, and Houston but was not permitted by US authorities (unless the airline implemented a European stopover on the flight to American cities) due to security concerns after 9/11.

    A PIA flight from Multan crashed in July 2006, killing 45. A government inquiry afterward blamed aging aircraft for the crash.[46] Houston services also ended in 2006. Following the crash, on 5 March 2007, the European Commission banned all but 9 of PIA’s 42-strong fleet from flying to Europe, citing safety concerns over its ageing aircraft.[47][48] The fleet of Boeing 777s was exempted from the ban,[49] but 15 aircraft were over 20 years old by this point.[50] PIA claimed that the ban was discriminatory and unjustifiable. On 26 March 2007, Tariq Saeed Kirmani was forced to resign after pressure from authorities because of the EU ban[citation needed]. Zafar Khan was then appointed as the new chairman of Pakistan International Airlines.

    The ban on some of the aircraft was lifted after four months on 5 July 2007, following an inspection by the European Union Air Safety Administration. Of the eleven aircraft allowed to resume operations to the EU, five were Boeing 747-300s, and the remaining six were Airbus A310-300s. On 29 November 2007, the EU completely removed the ban, and PIA’s entire fleet was permitted to fly to Europe.”

  10. I flew PIA once out of necessity when all other carriers stopped flying into Peshawar. It seems that rockets being lobbed onto the runway every day was not a show stopper for them. I guess being NOT being a pilot is also not a deal breaker.

  11. AdamW – without knowing all the details, it’s unfortunate you were wrong somehow; and hopefully the bitterness subsides. But correct me if I’m wrong, this article is about airline pilots not doctors? Perhaps we should stick to that rather than steer the conversation to wider suspicion of inhabitants of the “third world”?

  12. I find it funny most of you are shocked. SHOCKED. that this could happen. Travel to or work in any of these countries in South Asia the middle east or most parts of Africa you will find that this type of behavior is rather common. Its all about pay a bribe to get anything you want

  13. AdamW speaks like someone who has zero understanding of how the medical system works.

    Not to mention – why even mention it here?

    Lastly – “Dirka Dirka Jihad University” – why is this shite allowed here?

  14. As a retired airline pilot for a major global carrier, I won’t fly on most of the world’s airlines. The flight standards are just way too low.

  15. Ben, you sure we’re “Lucky” when you did actually fly PIA. In fact I recall you quite enjoyed your flight.

  16. @AdamW

    So getting MD here in the US is a just a basic medical exam? Please tell me where do i sign up?

  17. @warren trout +1

    I will never fly with them or many others. The problem is they’re allowed to enter airspace over my home or in and around airports that I transit. Hopefully the countries that currently allow PIA landing rights will revoke them given these findings.

  18. I would agree that this is horrible but I also wanted to point out a couple of things regarding PIA:

    1) Yes there would be many PIA pilots on staff who are not licensed, but this does not mean that they are necessarily flying. As its been reported, by news outlets as well as PIA itself, it has a massively bloated staff. There are way more staff on the books, still receiving salaries and benefits than needed – these staff are appointed by Government ministers to their friends and supporters and by senior personnel in the staff. While these ’employees’ are technically on the books, many of them have never worked at PIA nor have any interaction with the airline; they work or do something else and basically just collect the salary. I would say this is for many positions including pilots – this is where part of the fake degrees come in because even though its all fake, it has to look legitimate so they have pilots with fake degrees collecting salaries and not flying

    2) the other instance is where there are pilots who have not passed all the regulations or did not pass all the mandatory requirements and are flying with PIA under false licences. A majority of these individuals do have flying experience and studied to be a pilot, but – and this was mentioned in your piece – they either a) do not have enough flying experience to be qualified as the pilot so those hours are modified, b) they did not pass the pilot licensing exams and thus paid for their license, or c) they are fully qualified and licensed for one type of aircraft, say the A320, but are flying the 777 or another type of aircraft and thus the additional license to say that they are ‘qualified for the A320 as well as 777’ may be incorrect.

    There are many problems and issues with PIA – as well as other Government agencies withing Pakistan – regarding mismanagement, corruption, lack of service, development, coordination, and efficiency. Despite all these issues, PIA continues to provide an essential service to the public and has maintained flight timings and schedule (while they are known as ‘Potentially we will fly’ they do eventually end up flying)

    I have flown on PIA domestically within Pakistan (review here: ) and while the service was decent and there were no issues regarding the flight, it was an old cabin that definitely needed to be refreshed and they were using a 777 on a domestic flight (it was completely full but I am not sure it was the best use of plane for a 1h45 min flight)

  19. @Doug R @AdamW in order to practice medicine in the United States, foreign trained doctors must pass the United Stated Medical Licensing Exams, the same ones that medical students from the US have to take. There is Step 1, Step 2 Clinical Knowledge, Step 2 Clinical Skills, and Step 3. It doesn’t matter if they are the most accomplished orthopedic surgeon in their home country, they still have to take these exams and start residency training here before they get to fully practice on their own again. The foreign doctors that I have worked with are some of the most intelligent, hard working, and dedicated people I know. They are willing to start at the bottom of the totem pole again in order to provide a better life for their families. They are vital to addressing the physician shortage that this country is facing and how are they thanked? With discrimination from many people like the two of you.

    Now relating this back to the original topic of this article… Many of the Pakistani doctors I have worked with refuse to fly PIA when they go back to visit. Most transit through UAE or Qatar.

  20. Of course this article was going to delve into racist and discriminatory comments.
    I understand the need for clicks but I guess it’s too much to ask for closed comments or regulation in the sake of basic deceny.

  21. @LMcK – from the numerous comments that have now been removed by the owners of this site – after attention was drawn to those comments.
    Better late than never, I suppose.

  22. Anyone know how I can go about obtaining one of those fake licenses? Would love to fly the 380.

  23. Just from a purely selfish standpoint aren’t they even worried about killing themselves due to not being competent enough pilots to pass the required tests? Not to mention all the innocent people in the back which they clearly don’t care about.

  24. @William – you are obviously more on the ball than I am.

    I have been following this post/the comments from the beginning (corona lockdown tends to make one focus on alternative pastimes) and have not seen, nor registered, racist comments being posted and subsequently removed.

    I believe this is simply an issue of an inadequate airline risking the lives of innocent souls because safety procedures and requirements pertaining to qualifications have not been adhered to. Very sad and disappointing.

  25. @LMcK – I’m not sure about being “more on the ball” — the comments were there for a few hours. I’m not the only one in this thread to note that they were highly inappropriate.
    What I don’t understand – before my comments are posted, I receive a message along the lines of, “your comment is awaiting moderation and will be posted when cleared.”

    So someone clearly thought the racist messages were fine to let through.
    Disappointing but finally they’ve been removed.

  26. @William – happy to read they were removed.

    Those posts – and disgusting attitudes – have no place in society.

    Stay well

  27. If this holds true, that 30% ( OR EVEN 1% for that matter ) of PIA pilots hold fake licenses , then this airline should be banned from flying ANYWHERE in the world IMMEDIATELY until a UN international aviation authority reviews all of this shameful airline company’s pilots ratings and practices.

  28. It’s time for single pilot cockpit or pilotless cockpit or remote pilot. Pilot union and other against technology stop lobbying against this. We need to move forward.

  29. PIA has always been this way. It is relatively large compared to other developing countries’ airlines. I don’t think anyone code shares with them. Nor any alliance. To be avoided at all costs. Not surprising also that it is government owned.

  30. Something tells me Pakistan’s Minister for Aviation is going to suddenly become wealthy in the near future… or mysteriously vanish.

  31. Yes @Aaron, your thoughts about Pakistan’s Minister for aviation (and assorted hangers-on) is pretty spot on!
    Why, at least once a week I receive urgent emails from people like him, from countries like his, (Ghana and Nigeria feature)
    asking me, and only me, to help facilitate the transfer of millions of dollars (conveniently $US) which are logjammed in some regulatory vortex, for a sizable reward.
    All I need to do it provide my bank details to unlock a sultan’s reward…………!
    Yeah, right.

  32. So how come Pakistan IASA is still a category 1 while countries like Thailand got stuck in category 2.

    If FAA is going to police the world at least do it right not keep fumbling like the 737MAX over and over again.


  33. Don’t blame PIA, It’s a usual process in every Institution to scrutinize. But some people use this an excuse to harm PIA. The government has not yet provided any proof, it may be a political move by this government

  34. This does not come as a surprise to me after flying around the world for 50 years . And there are quite a few other countries national airlines I would not fly .

  35. PIA should merge back with Air India. And honestly Pakistan should merge back with India.

    The whole ‘anti-india’ / nation with indefendible borders identity doesn’t work.

  36. Sad to see PIA’s current state. Was a great company in the 70s. All it needs is a competent management to make a turnaround. And the political interference MUST stop.

  37. These were claims made many years ago and now it’s confirmed – I have never or will ever fly P.I.A.

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