July 5, 2020

By Ahmed Saeed


Khalid Tanwir is a retired commercial airline pilot who has given 25 precious years of his life to the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA); he has the experience of thousands of flight hours. But on June 25, 2020, a bombshell was dropped on Tanwir when it was revealed to him that his name was also included in the list of pilots who were alleged of having dubious or fake licenses.

Earlier, the Federal Minister of Civil Aviation, Gulam Sarwar Khan, told the National Assembly that there are 860 active pilots in the country, yet 262 pilots have either fake or dubious licenses or that they have cleared their examinations through unfair means.

Tanwir went into a deep state of shock after seeing his name on that list – even though it could not affect him professionally as he had already quit flying after reaching the age of superannuation – a few years ago.

But still, he wants to remove this stigma he is becoming associated with.
“I was with the aviation for 33 years; for eight years I served as a radar air traffic controller and then I joined PIA as a pilot,” remembers Tanwir. “ I had an accident-free career but I don’t know how they included my name on the list. It is very shameful.”

But it is not just Tanwir, who like other pilots have felt the brunt of the minister’s statement about fake licenses: the airline -which has been running losses for some time has received several blows too.

Consequently, many international media organizations including BBC and CNN ran this as news in their headlines. The European Union’s Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) suspended PIA authorization to fly to the bloc for six months, while UK’s Civil Aviation Agency has suspended PIA flight operations from three of its airports – Birmingham, London Heathrow, and Manchester. Vietnam’s and Malaysia’s civil aviation departments have ordered all the airlines to immediately ground all the pilots of Pakistani origin until the authorities verify their licenses.

These repercussions which stemmed from Ghulam Sarwar Khan’s statement have started a new debate about the handling of this issue by the government. Major opposition parties declared the move as a suicide attack on PIA.
The Minister came under severe criticism from all quarters but Prime Minister Imran Khan stood behind his chosen man. He said that it was necessary to make the list public because that was the only way to bring reforms within the ailing airline.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (PALPA), a representative body of Pakistani pilots has vehemently criticized the government and has called this list of ‘fake licenses’ as a fake document itself.

“Those who were fully professional have been badly affected due to this ‘fake list’,” said Captain Qasim, Spokesperson of PALPA. “Maybe their careers could end due to this list. The most dangerous thing is that you have used  a fake list to damage the reputation of our national airline which has seen 50 years of glory.”

Many pilots including Tanwir have decided to move court against the government for publishing the list and damaging their repute.

“I have all the original records and certificates with me and I have consulted a lawyer to file a case,” Tanwir said, adding, “I would advise the government to constitute a judicial commission and probe the matter from scratch. The records of those who got their licenses before 2010 should be available with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).”

Captain Imtiaz Bokhari is another retired pilot whose name is included in the list. Bokhari retired in 2012 after serving 42 years in different airlines as a pilot. He has been very dejected to see his name on the list.

“It is a matter of shame and sheer embarrassment for me that my name is on that list,” says Bokhari. “All my children always proudly tell their friends that their father was an excellent pilot…but look at what they have done to me.”
According to Bokhari he also remained an instructor of young pilots first in Pakistan Air Force and then in PIA.

“The government is trying to say that I passed an examination by cheating! Throughout my career, I have mentored and coached many aspirants to pass these exams and now the government thinks that I myself didn’t have the capability to clear the papers,” he said.

But unlike many other pilots, Bokhari is not interested in filing a case against the government mainly because of his age. He says he has left the matter to fate and hopes things will improve.

Voicepk.net also contacted a spokesperson for the CAA and asked him about the allegations raised by the retired pilots on the list. The spokesperson said that the inquiry was still ongoing but all those whose names are on the list must have done something wrong.
When asked why the CAA did not issue show-cause notices to these pilots, the spokesperson instead of answering ended the phone call abruptly saying that he had to go for a meeting. Voicepk.net tried to contact him several times but he did not respond.

Journalist Tahir Imran Mian, who has covered aviation for a long time says that the government has mishandled the entire issue. According to Mian, the government has not evaluated the repercussions of publishing the list.
He said that the majority of the pilots have licenses issued by the US or UK and they could get back to flying after some kind of verification by international aviation agencies.

“But Pakistan’s credibility has been badly hurt and the real problem lies in rebuilding it,” he says. “I think that for remedial solutions, Pakistan should have to work with international stakeholders and make a plan with them, only then can the situation be normalized,” Mian said.