Fake pilot scandal prompts US to block Pakistan’s flag carrier

by BLOOMBERG / pic by BLOOMBERG

Pakistan’s national airline has been barred from flying to the U.S. as a result of a scandal in which almost one-third of the nation’s pilots were found to have faked certifications.

The U.S. Transportation Department notified Pakistan International Airlines Corp.’s lawyers in Washington on July 1 that its authorization to operate to U.S. destinations was being immediately suspended. The department released a copy of the letter on Thursday.

PIA has been wracked by years of financial losses and on May 22 suffered a fatal crash in which 98 people died after pilots of an Airbus SE jet inexplicably retracted the landing gear just before touchdown, damaging its engines. The flight crew tried to lift off again, but the engines failed a short time later.

Pakistan said last month that 262 out of over 850 airline pilots had fake certificates and didn’t sit in the qualification exams themselves that are conducted by the regulator. The South Asian nation fired 28 pilots this week while it continues to investigate the rest.

The Federal Aviation Administration had notified the department on June 30 that all of PIA’s operations to the U.S. should be terminated as a result of the pilot-certification scandal. PIA was flying special flights from destinations including New Jersey and Chicago in June to fly stranded passengers as nations imposed travel restrictions to curb the virus from spreading.

The U.S. move follows the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s decision last month to ban airlines from Pakistan flying to its member states.

“It is a setback for PIA due to the prevailing scandal,” Pakistan International Airlines spokesman Abdullah Hafeez Khan said by phone. “PIA had worked very hard to get direct flights permission.”

The carrier had received permission to operate 12 flights to the U.S. after a three-year hiatus, according to Khan. It used the permission to fly seven special flights to transport stranded passengers.

PIA hasn’t made a profit in 15 years and liabilities amounted to $3.8 billion at the end of last year. It has some 14,000 employees for a fleet of only about 30 planes.