Investigation underway after pilot caught napping in business class while trainee flew the plane
A pilot from Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), Pakistan's national carrier, is being investigated for potentially putting the lives of more than 305 passengers at risk by allegedly allowing a trainee pilot to fly the aircraft soon after take-off while he reportedly took a nap in a passenger seat last month, according to a passenger on board the flight.
Captain Amir Akhtar Hashmi was reported to be operating London-bound flight PK-785 from Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, on April 26 along with first officer pilot Ali Hassan Yazdani, and another first officer - Mohammad Asad Ali - who was being trained by Mr Hashmi, according to Dawn, the Pakistani daily newspaper.
During the flight, Mr Hashmi allegedly left Mr Ali in control of the plane while Mr Yazdani was in the observer’s seat of the cockpit. The captain reportedly then went over to a business class seat where he put a blanket over himself and went to sleep.
Mr Hashmi has denied that he slept during the flight: "It is a wrong allegation that I took a two-and-a-half hour sleep during the flight. I did not sleep during the said flight," he told the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.
The captain also claimed that it is normal practice for a pilot to take naps during long flights in the presence of co-pilots, according to PTI.
The incident allegedly would have gone unnoticed had it not caught the attention of a flier who saw Mr Hashmi sleeping in a passenger’s seat in full uniform. After realising who Mr Hashmi was, the concerned passenger was said to have made a complaint and a senior air hostess was reportedly forced to make note of the incident in her flight log.
“Passenger (Seat 1 D) complained that while the captain was sleeping in business class cabin, I (the passenger) do not feel safe. It had been explained that two other crew members were in the cockpit but he said that he would follow the matter and write down a complaint card as well,” senior air hostess Nazneen Haider stated in her report.
Mr Hashmi was taken off flight duty with an investigation under way, PIA spokesperson Danyal Gilani told Dawn, who did not disclose any further details regarding the incident.
Both first officers allegedly did not report the incident to management in a bid to protect Mr Hashmi, who is paid Rs100,000 (around £735) a month to train pilots and is the former president of the Pakistan Air Lines Pilots Association (PALPA).
The airline allegedly delayed launching an investigation but eventually gave in to “pressure from above” among ministry officials in the capital.
It is unclear whether both first officers as well as Ms Haider would also be investigated for the alleged incident and whether the first officers have also been or will be taken off flying duty.
The latest incident isn’t the first time Mr Hashmi has allegedly compromised passengers’ safety during a flight. During his time as president of the PALPA, the pilot allegedly operated many long-haul transatlantic flights without resting for the prescribed duration of time before the journey, Dawn reports.
Both PIA and the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) have yet to respond to Telegraph Travel’s request for a comment on the latest allegations, including whether there will be any actions taken against Mr Hashmi, his co-pilots and the senior air hostess for the alleged safety breaches made and whether any measures will be taken to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Telegraph Travel has also asked both PIA and PCAA about what pilots and cabin crew are required to do during such incidents, and what amount of time pilots are required to rest before operating a flight, but have yet to receive a response from either company.
Earlier this year, PIA was also investigated for breaching safety regulations by allegedly allowing seven people to travel while standing on a flight from Karachi to Medina, Saudi Arabia in January.
The situation would have posed a serious risk to passengers as those standing would not have had access to oxygen masks in the case of an in-flight emergency and would have contributed to overcrowding on the plane in the case of an emergency evacuation.