A private association of aircraft owners and operators and Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) are currently sparring over the issue of pilot certifications with the former’s argument revolving around the need to keep a foreign firm engaged for certification at a time of low foreign exchange.
However, its counter-point, as presented by PCAA, is that progress made by Pakistan in its bid to resolve significant safety concerns that arose from a 2020 scandal over fake pilot licences has come on the back of the UK-based CAA International (CAAi) services.
The bone of contention: ‘expensive exams’
Officials at the Aircraft Owners and Operators Association (AOOA) say aspirants are currently “being forced” to pay what they call an “exorbitant amount of fees” to the UK-based CAAi for examinations that would grant a clean chit to pilots.
It added that while it may have been necessary in the wake of the 2020 development – when the scandal over fake licences rocked Pakistan’s aviation sector, and hurt flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), which was barred from flying to Europe and the United States – there is no longer “any need” for the examination.
“We have been told by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) that PCAA can issue the licences now,” AOOA founder Imran Aslam Khan told Business Recorder.
“We don’t see any reason for losing our foreign exchange to a UK firm.”
Khan said Pakistan’s contractual obligation with the UK firm was a minimum of 1,000 exams or one year before a notice could be served for a request to terminate services.
“However, over 4,200 exams have taken place so far. A total of £399,000 has so far been spent for nothing.”
Khan said there is now a shortage of upcoming pilots as the fees is rendering it unfeasible for aspirants to appear for the exams.
Khan also claimed that the UK-based firm is “generous in failing” pilots, creating a greater need for re-takes.
In its attempt to address what it called an economic issue, AOOA has written a letter to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. A copy of the letter and other documents are available with Business Recorder.
“Country needs foreign exchange, and we are spending it on an examination system which is not better than our own system at PCAA,” the letter read, undersigned by AOOA General Secretary Muhammad Nawaz Asim.
“UK system is charging us in pounds and that too at least 20 times higher than what had been our own cost. This has made the commercial pilot course very expensive and unaffordable for parents,” it added.
The letter said “after ICAO has also confirmed that Pakistan cleared the audit based on what we presented within our own system and that no third party was considered in clearing the audit/SSC (Significant Safety Concern), then draining much-needed foreign exchange” is beyond understandable.
“It is, therefore, humbly requested that since the UK CAAi contractual obligations are finished, this contract may kindly be cancelled immediately and PCAA examinations system, which is even better than the one we are using through the UK, be restored,” the letter added.
The PCAA’s response
While it was praised in the letter, the PCAA criticised the association, saying there needs to be a sense of “sensitivity” regulatory matters.
“They are service providers and should be careful about sensitive regulatory matters, in particular, about working of the ICAO,” a well-placed PCCA official told Business Recorder.
“PCAA has successfully qualified the ICAO audit in March 2022 and resolved all Significant Safety Concerns. The basis of success in audit and resolution of safety concerns were numerous Corrective Action Plans (CAPs) including internal improvements as well as conduct of exams through internationally recognised UK CAAi,” the official added.
The PCAA said it was aware of the fees charged for pilot exams in UK pounds, but added that it was important to highlight that the authority has been able to establish and regain Pakistan’s credibility soon after the start of pilot exams through UK CAAi.
“PCAA has envisaged establishment of an international standard examination system with state of art IT systems and all security networks. The cost of the system will be substantially high and work will be awarded to reputable companies through a competitive tendering process,” the official added.
“CAA intends to install a fully operational exam system before the expiry of contract with UK CAAI in mid-2025.”