“The cat is out of the bag and the current government faces another uphill task to make amends within the aviation industry.”
The aviation industry has transformed due to various kinds of security threats that have emerged over time. Starting from 2001 after the 9/11 hijackings, airports around the world tightened their screening of passengers, and pilots began locking their cockpits. Ever since a detonator was caught inside a passenger’s shoes, passengers have been told to take their shoes off at security checkpoints. The increasing threats have led the United States (US) to spend nearly $100 billion on revamping airport security. A few years later, the second threat surfaced in the United Kingdom (UK) when a terror plot to smuggle explosive liquids on to planes was uncovered in 2006, after which the number of liquids allowed on flights was restricted.
The latest security threat that has wreaked havoc is the coronavirus pandemic that emerged in China in late 2019. The industry had been growing over the decade and was estimated to earn more than $800 billion in revenue until 2020 hit, and things took an ugly turn. Approximately seven million flights were canceled between January and July as people stopped booking flights and thousands of planes that needed to be grounded struggled to find parking spots. Many travelers and foreigners were left stranded in various countries around the world and even stuck at airports when countries closed their borders.
A century ago, when the Spanish Flu struck, air travel was in its infancy. As a result, the effect on flights was minimal. Now, air travel is the most popular mode of transport with approximately 40 million flights a year and billions of travelers.
The virus has bogged down the entire flying process and made it more painstaking because masks and social distancing are mandatory. Airlines now need to follow new protocols such as leaving seats between passengers to ensure social distancing — this adds to the losses being faced by many airlines.
“The virus, however, is not the only problem the industry will be facing this year thanks to Pakistan’s Federal Aviation Minister, Ghulam Sarwar.”
The devastating impact of COVID-19 will not dissipate until a few years. The damage has compelled airlines to seek multi-billion-dollar bailouts from their respective governments. Airlines such as Lufthansa and Thai Airways were saved through bailouts.
The virus, however, is not the only problem the industry will be facing this year thanks to Pakistan’s Federal Aviation Minister, Ghulam Sarwar.
On May 22, an Airbus A320, operated by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and en route from Lahore to Karachi, crashed moments before attempting a second landing, which led to the death of 97 passengers. Luckily, two passengers managed to survive the crash. The damage did not end there. When the aviation minister was expected to present the crash report, he went on to bring to light the pilots’ licensing issue that was still under investigation.
The revelation by Pakistan’s aviation minister unveiled a new type of security threat that jolted the entire aviation industry. Speaking on the floor of the National Assembly, the minister announced that 262 out of 860 Pakistani licensed pilots, who are working within Pakistan and abroad, had fake licenses and certificates. He repeated the number in a press conference the next day but added that the 262 pilots’ credentials were “suspected” to be fake.
This unprecedented revelation made frontlines, astonished the entire aviation industry, and damaged whatever little credibility the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had, since it is responsible for providing legitimate licences and certifications, hence ensuring travelers’ safety.
“[Aviation minister’s] announcement rang alarm bells and dealt a heavy blow to the faltering national carrier. Now, not only PIA, but the entire CAA, needs to prove that it is capable of ensuring that its pilots are airworthy.”
As soon as the news broke out, the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) barred Pakistani commercial planes from entering their airspace. The European Union Air Safety Agency (EASA) issued letters to airline operators in member countries to suspend PIA’s authorisation to operate in the EU for six months. The US Department of Transportation also revoked the PIA’s authorisation to conduct flights to and from the country due to safety concerns.
The announcement rang alarm bells and dealt a heavy blow to the faltering national carrier. Now, not only PIA, but the entire CAA, needs to prove that it is capable of issuing legitimate licences and certificates while ensuring that its pilots are airworthy. It will definitely take a long time to recover, but the fact that such a thing could occur has alerted aviation authorities around the world.
Pakistan has been struggling to improve its image in the international world while being scrutinised by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and monitored by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This incident might lead to the country being closely investigated by other organisations, such as the International Civil Aviation, which will be liable for ensuring that trained and certified pilots are flying planes around the world. With the Pakistani passport already being ranked among the worst in the world, the repercussions of this announcement will only cause its ranking to drop further, wiping out whatever efforts had been made to improve the country’s global image in the past.
It is heartbreaking to see PIA, which helped set up Emirates by leasing its aircraft and training its staff, in such a dilapidated state. Even though the coronavirus had pushed a large number of airlines towards bankruptcy, PIA’s poor global image and tarnished reputation will solely be responsible for its ill fate. The cat is out of the bag and the current government faces another uphill task to make amends within the aviation industry.