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Pakistan airline suspends 150 pilots over alleged licence fraud

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Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has suspended 150 pilots after questions over the authenticity of their licences emerged.

The announcement comes a day after an initial investigation found the human error was primarily responsible for a PIA plane crash that killed 98 people in southern Pakistan last month.

Out of our 434 pilots, 150 will be grounded as of today, PIA spokesman Abdullah Khan told Al Jazeera by telephone from Karachi, where the crash took place on May 22.

It will totally cripple us. But we cannot take risks with this.

Thursday’s suspensions will remain until investigations can be carried out to verify the authenticity of the pilots’ licences. The airline will primarily look into allegations that the pilots did not sit for the examinations themselves and sent others instead.

We are following reports from Pakistan regarding fake pilot licenses, which are concerning and represent a serious lapse in the licensing and safety oversight by the aviation regulator.

We are trying to obtain more information on the matter, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said in a statement on Friday.

Seventeen pilots were suspended in January 2019 over similar allegations following a probe into an air crash in the southwestern Pakistani town of Panjgur – where a plane carrying 43 passengers careered off the runway after making an unsafe approach – said Khan. No one was injured in that incident.

On Wednesday, aviation minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan told Parliament that 262 of Pakistan’s 860 actives, licensed pilots had been found to have suspect licences.

They were found not to have given their exams themselves, said Khan. They give money and have a dummy candidate sit in their place.

On 22, May, 98 people were killed when a ‘Pakistan International Airlines’ Airbus A320 crashed into a residential neighbourhood about 1.4km (0.9 miles) from Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport.

The initial investigation report, released by Khan on Wednesday, said human error by the aircraft’s pilots and air traffic controllers was primarily to blame for the crash.

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