Did you hear about the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) crash that killed 97 onboard on Friday, May 22, 2020? Initial investigations led to suspicion of pilot error. Deeper probes revealed a much larger, trust-shaking, industry-rattling problem. It’s suspected that upwards of 30% of active pilots in Pakistan have “fake” licenses. As shocking as that sounds, there’s even more to this revelation. This pilot fraud shatters our blinded trust in airline safety.
When is a pilot not a pilot?
We should think it’s straightforward. Either you’ve passed all the tests and performed flight hours needed or you haven’t.
That’s true unless the person didn’t actually take the exams and/or fly the hours. Sounds similar to the U.S. university admission scandals recently.
Some of the accused PIA pilots have admitted to having fake credentials as the investigation progressed.
However, at least one pilot on the suspected fraud list is fighting back saying it’s a matter of timing. He assisted flying an aircraft the same day he took the exam for the highest level of license. Which the Pakistani Government finds dubious. But, in reading the realities of these pilots to complete advanced certifications, same-day exams seem plausible.
Apparently many countries have differing requirements for the levels of pilots. It’s not as standardized as we would have expected.
Pakistan has three levels of pilot licenses:
- Airline Transport
In the case of the concerned pilot above, he stated he was legally flying as a commercially licensed pilot and took the exam for the higher-level Airline Transport license the same day.
The layers of the issue are profound. However, there remains a serious problem that some people are flying planes without the correct certifications. Which is unacceptable as a traveler where our safety is literally in their hands.
Who Is Flying This Plane?
There’s an assumption we’re in capable hands.
Do we ask or even care who flies us from point A to point B?
We usually hear from the Captain at various parts of the flight. But what do we really know about them? A name, title, and a confident, reassuring voice is it.
The question I haven’t heard asked though is should we know more?
We need to know our doctor is certified. Why do we not care about the crew flying us to a destination?
If you’re looking for a new medical physician, if you’re like me, you’ll do at least a quick check to see that they’re certified by a reputable organization.
Perhaps we need easy access to publicly available information for our scheduled pilots.
Show Us The Creds
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is working towards verifying the credentials of its’ airline employees in response to the investigation.
Great! But, what is being done for future test takers?
I’d like to understand what protocols will be in place to greatly reduce the risk of cheaters beating the system. And, potentially causing deaths due to negligence from the lack of proper training.
Beyond a policy shift to increase passengers’ confidence in pilots around the world, how about a game-changer?
When a potential passenger is looking to book a flight, the scheduled pilots are listed with their licenses. We as passengers can view their information to determine if we are comfortable flying with them.
Or links instead to a general pilot database similar to publicly available doctor profiles.
If there are safety concerns with listing the pilot names, at least provide their credentials for flying aircraft and years of service.
There should be a notification if the pilots are swapped for unforeseen needed schedule changes. Some sort of option to re-book the flight should be provided in case customers are not comfortable flying with a new pilot/crew.
I realize this opens the door for a lot of potential complexities for airlines not to mention increased costs.
When hundreds of lives are held in the controls of a few people, accessible information about the pilot credentials is at the very least good business and more worthy of my patronage. I’m deciding to put my safety in their hands.
Because at the end of the flight, all I want is to walk off the plane feeling they did a great job on a safe journey and landing.
Read. Plan. Travel. Repeat!