The battered reputation of Pakistan International Airlines has taken another dent after a passenger was allowed into the cockpit during a flight and reportedly remained alone with the pilot for more than two hours.
Captain Shahzad Aziz has been accused of endangering the lives of his passengers and breaching safety protocols after he allowed a young Chinese woman into the cockpit during flight PK-853 from Tokyo to Beijing this week. Claims that after he kicked his co-pilot out of the cockpit the couple became amorous remain unconfirmed.
The woman reportedly remained in the cockpit during landing, however, an explicit breach of safety rules, only returning to her seat to collect her belongings and disembark. She declined to talk to a Pakistani journalist who had filmed her entering the cockpit, and who reported that the co-pilot left the cockpit.
The incident is another blow for Pakistan’s beleaguered national carrier, which is riddled with debt and already investigating a string of recent incidents, including the crash of flight PK-661, which plunged into mountains north of Islamabad killing 48 passengers and crew in December 2016. Officials claimed the aircraft was known to have a faulty engine and was not cleared to fly by ground crew. This was denied by Azam Saigol, the chairman of PIA.
Another PIA pilot is under investigation after he was caught sleeping in a passenger seat on a flight to Heathrow from Islamabad. Captain Amir Akhtar Hashmi reportedly left the aircraft, with 300 passengers onboard, in the hands of a trainee pilot and went for a nap soon after takeoff. He allegedly slept for more than two hours before passengers spotted him and complained to stewards.
Reports in Pakistan claim PIA’s management tried to dismiss calls for an inquiry into Captain Hashmi, but succumbed to “pressure from above” when photographs of the pilot sleeping in business class went viral online.
Captain Aziz also faces disciplinary action and an inquiry when he returns to Pakistan, though a spokesman for the airline again appeared to brush off the incident, claiming that inviting a single passenger into the cockpit was not a security concern.
On another PIA flight in January, seven passengers were left standing in the aisle for four hours after extra people were allowed on with handwritten boarding cards. The pilot, Captain Anwar Adil, told Pakistani media he was only informed that the flight was overloaded after takeoff from Karachi, bound for Medina in Saudi Arabia.
Captain Adil claimed it was agreed that dumping the required fuel to return to Karachi and land safely would be too costly so the flight proceeded with passengers still standing. PIA dismissed the story as “baseless” when reports of the incident broke, but took disciplinary action against Captain Adil after an inquiry it set up found that the allegation that extra passengers had be allowed on to the flight was true.
“After in-depth investigation, it has been confirmed that passenger[s] travelled on [the] flight are over and above of the aircraft configuration (including jump seats) which is a clear violation of SOP [standard operating procedures] and violation of passenger safety,” read a report signed by Manager Operations Sohail Jaffar Ali.
In 2013, a PIA pilot was arrested and jailed in Britain for being drunk before attempting to fly a flight with 156 people onboard from Leeds to Islamabad.
Once a proud symbol of Pakistani independence, PIA is now also burdened with an ageing fleet of aircraft.
Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, has tried to privatise the national carrier but attempts to sell off the airline have been blocked in parliament, leaving the government saddled with the company and its £2.4 billion losses.