PIA sacks over 50 employees including pilots for fake degrees

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the flag carrier of Pakistan, has terminated the contracts of at least 50 employees, including pilots and cabin crew, for holding false degrees. The case, which is being investigated by the country’s aviation authority, has reached Pakistan’s top court, revealing some of the airline’s pilots have not even completed high school.

An initial statement by PIA said the airline has fired three pilots and 50 cabin staff after they were found to be holding false degrees, media reports revealed on December 29, 2018.

“The airline has dismissed from service its 50 staffers including three pilots for holding fake high school degrees,” PIA’s spokesperson Mashood Tajwar was quoted as saying by A21.com.mx citing AFP news agency.

According to a subsequent, December 31, 2018, report by the Arab News, Tajwar had identified at least six more pilots that had been fired as a result of the allegations.

The action by the national carrier was taken in light of the proceedings of Pakistan’s Supreme Court against pilots and cabin crew members with bogus degrees and certificates.

“We have begun probe into (the cases of) all staffers who were hired (while) holding sham degrees,” Tajwar was quoted as saying by India’s Economic Times citing the Express Tribune.

Meanwhile, the country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has suspended the licenses of pilots and cabin crew discovered to be holding fake academic credentials. The CAA has also issued directives to suspend the licenses of all those who have not yet submitted their degrees and certificates for verification, Pakistan‘s Express Tribune writes.

To fire or not to fire

According to a report by News18.com on December 30, 2018, the cases of 4,321 employees of PIA had been verified by the CAA. But the agency also revealed before the Supreme Court it had found the academic credentials of seven PIA’s pilots to be fake. Five of them have not even completed their matriculation (basically, 10th grade ).

Chief Justice Saqib Nisar has asked the national carrier to submit a list of all its 498 pilots along with the results of their license examination, the media outlet writes.

Initially, the CAA had been given a December 28, 2018, deadline to complete the verification of the degrees in question, India’s NDTV.com news suggests. But, according to a report by the Express Tribune on January 3, 2019, the committee was advised by the CAA that verification process was still ongoing: the authority is currently working on 1,200 cases of fake degrees and certificates.

PIA’s Chief Operating Officer Ejaz Mazhar reportedly told the panel that contracts with 402 of its employees have been terminated while 35 cases are under process of disciplinary proceedings; another 263 employees have approached courts for a stay order (a court order that suspends a judicial proceeding).

The latest news coming from Pakistan informs that the country‘s Senate Standing Committee on Aviation has opposed the termination of contracts of those PIA employees involved in the fake degrees case.

Committee Chairperson Mushahidullah Khan was cited as saying that although the issue is serious, it should not result in firings. He suggested that those involved should have their salaries reduced rather than lose their livelihood due to a fabricated degree.

The Committee recommended criminal proceedings against those persons at the company who were responsible for verification of the bogus credentials at the time of appointment instead.

Troubled times

The case is the latest embarrassing blow in a line of controversies to hit the struggling airline: PIA employees have been repeatedly investigated for drug trafficking, particularly following the discovery of a drug smuggling network by its cabin crew on Dubai-bound flights in 2016.

The state-owned airline has also struggled financially, running into losses for years now. In November 2018, the Pakistani government approved a (yet another) bailout package of Rs 17 billion (around US$ 122 million) for the flag carrier to keep it afloat.

PIA’s accumulated losses have reached Rs 400 billion ($2.86 billion) as of August 2018, and its running losses each month are almost Rs2 billion ($14.3 million), Pakistani news outlet Dawn reports.

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