And This Is Why Pakistan International Airlines Is Banned From Flying To The U.S. And Europe

In May 2020 a Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A320 from Lahore to Karachi aborted its approach because of problems with the nose landing gear. When the crew read their landing clearance, master warning sounds were going off. During their go around they lost both engines and declared a mayday. They came down in a residential area, and burst into flames.

While two passengers survived, 97 passengers and crew perished. Four people on the ground were injured, including a twelve year old girl who eventually died. The final report on this accident is now available.

I’ve never seen an incident report so damning of the actions of pilots, ever. One of the things that was uncovered after this incident is that more than 30% of the airline’s pilots had fake licenses.

In this case, everything that could possibly have been done wrong was?

  • Discussions on the flight deck are supposed to be focused exclusively on the safe operation of the flight below 10,000 feet (‘sterile cockpit’). These pilots were just shooting the breeze.

  • Since they were just chatting, they didn’t bother doing an approach briefing so hadn’t discussed their arrival trajectory or any missed approach strategy.

  • The flight crew didn’t announce or check their autopilot settings when directed to descend towards MAKLI. As the plane started its descent, the crew failed to follow protocol by not announcing or checking the autopilot’s progress at 5,000 feet. They were distracted by unrelated conversations instead of focusing on necessary flight procedures.

  • The flight was in contact with Karachi Area Control. Then they stopped responding to multiple calls from various air traffic control units and another aircraft. It seemed the flight crew accidentally changed the radio frequency to an incorrect one and did not inform air traffic control, while they chatted away.

  • They adjusted altimeters late and didn’t verbally confirm descent or check their flight mode after receiving instructions to descend to 3,000 feet.

  • The pilots failed to adjust the flight management system for a holding pattern, which would have affected their approach path and altitude. They were too high for a proper landing approach, air traffic control called this out, but they didn’t properly adjust their flight path – they just continued with their approach.

  • The crew lowered the landing gear and adjusted speed brakes without following protocol or verbalizing their actions, amidst a rapid and excessive descent. They disregarded air traffic control’s offer to circle (orbit) to lose altitude and correct their approach path. The aircraft was not stabilized at critical approach checkpoints, and the crew failed to initiate a go-around when it was clear they were not properly aligned for landing.

  • In the final moments, amidst confusion and improper speed and altitude management, the crew considered a go-around too late and without proper procedure.

The incident occurred at the end of Ramadan. The report calls out that “clear and precise regulations were not available to restrict flying while Fasting at the time of accident.”

Post-accident analysis showed that the captain had a history of similar approach issues, indicating a broader issue with flight performance monitoring within the airline. The report says this regarding the captain,

Captain was of a bossy nature, firm, dominant and overbearing. He had a tendency to have little regard for the authority, low mechanical / space relation comprehension and inadequate level of stress tolerance.

Pakistan International Airlines is best known for sacrificing a goat for safety and flying with more passengers than seats (and making customers stand for 1700 miles).

Boeing 777 on Approach to New York JFK in 2014, Copyright zhukovsky / 123RF Stock Photo

The airline is so bad that even operating on time creates problems: customers build failure into their expectations and don’t actually show up for flights when they’re scheduled to depart. The airline keeps having planes repossessed, and hasn’t been operating its full fleet because the government airline cannot pay the government oil company for fuel.

We hold modern aircraft to a standard that they’re supposed to be able to fly themselves no matter who is in the cockpit. Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes at Ethiopian and Lion Air wouldn’t have happened with U.S .airline pilots yet the planes were grounded.

However there’s a limit and Pakistan International Airlines, according to this report, doesn’t seem to have a good handle on that limit. After the incident ICAO performed a safety audit of Pakistani aviation and cleared them. I dunno…

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Shooting the breeze wouldn’t be my opening bullet of choice if I’m trying to elicit condemnation.

    That being said, the rest of it was pretty abhorrent; just strange editorial choice.

    P.S. Thinking about starting a new career as a pilot at PIA – Sounds like no flight training won’t be a problem.

  2. What airplane can fly itself no matter who is in the cockpit? You have so little understanding and respect for the profession and the industry.

    Even when you start sounding like you’re presenting reasonable facts the disgraceful junk comes out. Can you write one article where you leave your “expertise” and opinion out and state facts?

  3. Unbelievable. Thanks for the link to the report, Gary, it’s fascinating reading (in a macabre sort of way). You mention that they had lowered the landing gear, but it turns out that the FO raised it again (assuming that there would be an orbit). The report lists the Primary Cause of the crash as follows: “Aircraft made Gears Up landing where both Engines’ nacelle made contact with R/W. Both Engines were damaged causing loss of Engine Oil and lubrication which resulted in failure of both Engines during Go-Around.” The whole thing is incredibly sad.

  4. “Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes at Ethiopian and Lion Air wouldn’t have happened with U.S .airline pilots yet the planes were grounded.”

    How is this relevant to the situation with Pakistan? Is it just thrown in there as a “things crash when too many non-white pilots are in the cockpit” example or…? Even US pilots demanded training on the MAX software… so it’s not like US pilots felt they had zero chance of losing control of MAX planes either.

  5. “Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes at Ethiopian and Lion Air wouldn’t have happened with U.S .airline pilots”

    Are you sure about this comment?

  6. I call BS on your comment to say the max crashes wouldn’t have happened had it been U.S airline pilots in control. Boeing screwed that deal, no denying that. U.S pilots had no idea about MCAS just as no one else.

  7. “Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes at Ethiopian and Lion Air wouldn’t have happened with U.S .airline pilots yet the planes were grounded.”

    Gary, would you care to explain yourself, please!

    I think the crashes would not have happened, if it were not for (i) US-hypercapitalism and (ii) an incompetent Boeing paying Indian programmers $9/h to write the software. The software which ultimately lead to the two crashes and the loss of 380+ lives.

  8. “Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes at Ethiopian and Lion Air wouldn’t have happened with yet the planes were grounded.”

    Absolute racist rubbish! You should be ashamed of that comment Gary.
    Maybe do some fact checking of both accidents and you will find that the Ethiopian Air flight crew were found to have done everything within their power correctly to recover the aircraft yet were still confounded by the planes actions within the time frame.
    On simulators other pilots including ” U.S .airline pilots” could not recover the plane based on the Ethiopian Air Data logs.

    Maybe stick to your expertise in frequent flyer miles.

  9. “Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes at Ethiopian and Lion Air wouldn’t have happened with U.S .airline pilots yet the planes were grounded.”

  10. Decades ago, a Pakistani friend of mine said that PIA actually stood for “Please Inform Allah”. Sounds like nothing has changed.

  11. I don’t get the point of the article. All of this is news that you have previously covered. While I’m not defending PIA, I feel like you’re using them as a means of scapegoat for sensationalist media and views. It’s becoming repetitive.

  12. @rohan – U.S. carriers weren’t using junk replacement parts for angle of attack sensors. They were paying for angle of attack disagree. Training for a Lion Air pilot, and criteria to become one, are simply nothing like what a U.S. airline requires (and this has nothing to do with whether a pilot can get a commercial license). U.S. commercial pilots will handle runaway stab trim.

  13. I’d agree with Gary’s comment regarding the MAX but only to the extent that we’re talking about the main US airlines. And the same should be said for the big European and ME3 airlines as well. They hire sharper pilots (because they can pay), they have better training structures (because they can) and they better equip their a/c (because they can and should). Many (but not nearly all) third world airlines buy the more basic package from the a/c manufacturer and tend to do the minimum as far as training goes.

    This is why you didn’t have WN or UA plowing a MAX into the ground. That said, the whole thing IS Boeing’s fault. No question. It’s just that the major airlines have failsafes in place to capture potential manufacturer buffoonery like this. Gary’s comment wasn’t racist; it just was too basic, allowing for people to interpret it in which ever way their own prejudices lead them.

  14. “Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes at Ethiopian and Lion Air wouldn’t have happened with U.S .airline pilots yet the planes were grounded.”

    Finally part of the blame is being put where it should go. The pilot in the Ethiopian Airlines airplane probably hit task saturation because the first officer could not help a lot, leading to the decision to put the MCAS back online. The Lion Air airplane should have been grounded until properly repaired. The previous crew handled the situation properly when it arose. Tough situations make for failures such as AF477.

  15. Gary, racist much?
    “Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes at Ethiopian and Lion Air wouldn’t have happened with U.S .airline pilots yet the planes were grounded.”
    Just see the netflix movie on the 737Max please before you write this garbage.

    Having said that, complete agreement on Pakistan pilots and airline

  16. @Matt:
    > an incompetent Boeing paying Indian programmers $9/h to write the software

    Disagree. I do not believe the guys who actually wrote it were at fault. This is an architecture problem and I very much doubt that was done in India.

    Fundamentally, they failed to consider how the software would react to a sensor failure. I’ve refused to have anything to do with a project over a hardware design issue (e-stop must actually **directly** kill the power, not merely command a power-down, I would not accept a big red STOP button on the screen)–but I believe someone else went ahead with it.

    Surprisingly, never once in school was there **anything** about learning from past software failures. Yeah, most programmers will never write anything that actually has safety implications, but there are still lessons to be learned. None of my code has ever had direct command of any heavy equipment, but I have fed quite a bit of data to the actual controllers and there’s a little program sitting around here I named “smokey”–because it’s job was to detect and repair a certain flaw in CNC code output by an industry leader’s program that had more than once lead to smoking wood. (Although someone had always managed to hit the e-stop before it progressed to actual fire–the point of maximum heat had virtually zero oxygen available for combustion so we really could have smoke without fire.)

  17. The Ethiopian pilots are very well trained. The airline has very high standards and even bought their own 737 simulator.

    The Ethiopian pilot tried very hard to fly the airplane out of the problem, which made it worse by making the trim wheels almost impossible to operate. However, given that nobody knew why this was happening, the pilot’s actions in adding power were reasonable. I would guess that this same accident could easily have happened in the US.

  18. @Kyle

    It’s not true that “nobody knew why this was happening”. The existence of MCAS and it’s possible failure were known from the prior Lion Air crash and communicated to airlines. Ethiopian Airlines failed to make their crews aware and remind them that it could be stopped with trim cut-out.

    It’s also not the case that we can generalize across all pilots of all airlines. The previous Lion Air crew on the flight before the crash recognized a trim problem and did the trim cut-out. They reported that the Speed Trim System (the autotrim they knew about) seemed to be running backwards. That being said, if a control system is going to fail on my aircraft, I’d still prefer take my chances with a U.S. crew.

  19. Wow Gary, this is a new low even for you.

    So no US-based or US-trained pilot has ever made an error? No US pilot has ever crashed a plane because of plain, simple pilot error? You kidding me? How do you know that a US-based 737 MAX wouldn’t have crashed? Oh yeah, you don’t. Wish your blog had a downvote button for nonsensical rubbish like this.

    Sure, JT may have used a substandard part, but then explain why even when ET’s pilots hit the stab trim cutout that they weren’t able to regain control of the airplane?

    What a joke. At least you left Air India out of this post, so yay?

  20. Boeing made no new training a point of the new software because airlines want to avoid training expense. The Boeing people should have known better & got off light. Whether a US trained pilot could have compensated is rather beside the point unless you are limiting your travel to places US airlines fly. The PIA incident had nothing to do with Max software so this this seems like an undocumented cheap shot in an aside. It would seem like some anti-Islamic feeling is being expressed based on your anger at Hamas, which is understandable but unhelpful, as per the comment about fasting while flying. One is excused from fasting during travel.

  21. @SMR
    “You have so little understanding and respect for the profession and the industry.”

    The now obsolete flight engineers thanks you for being a dinosaur living in the past and wasting technology just to protect a dying profession.
    Sent via telegraph from an elevator operator who was a milkman turned in a manager at Blockbuster collecting fees to rewind VHS.

    Please respect the profession.
    Or your elevator won’t move, you won’t have milk, your message wouldn’t arrive in the same day, and you have to spend 10 minutes to rewind your tapes for Blockbuster.

    Now dinosaurs, worship the elevator buttons, Instacart, Whatsapp, and Netflix as your new god.

  22. “Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes at Ethiopian and Lion Air wouldn’t have happened with U.S .airline pilots yet the planes were grounded.”

    Ummm.. This seems to be saying that this Boeing-manufactured aircraft will nosedive into the ground if piloted in any country other than the US, and that’s somehow… okay?

    If so, this is bad news for Boeing, who could sell them only into the domestic market, with the message that “your US-based hero pilot will most likely save you from death when our planes repeatedly try to fly into the ground”.

    I’m no aviation expert, but I do not object to planes being grounded when they’re designed in such a manner that only a subset of trained pilots have the exceptional skills necessary to stop them flying themselves into the ground.

    Maybe that’s just me.

  23. @Gary
    And We should listen to you instead? Someone already most probably a boeing sock puppet? Look at the state of that company, parts dropping mid flight. Did that door blow open because the pilots were not white enough for your liking?

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