The management of Bristow Helicopters Limited has terminated the appointment of 100 pilots.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the company said the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated its decision to lay off workers.
While describing the sacking as painful, the airline’s management said the move was inevitable in order to ensure the continuity of its business and delivery of essential services to its clients.
“This decision has not been made lightly, but having considered the state of the business and the very serious constraints caused by the spread of the COVID-19 disease and the downturn in the oil and gas market, the company must now take this painful, but decisive step to ensure the continuity of its business and delivery of essential services to its clients,” the statement partly read.
“One of these measures includes the right-sizing of the business to ensure that the company has the optimal level of personnel to continue the safe delivery of its services to its clients, whilst allowing the appropriate capacity for future growth.
“Accordingly, and with much regret, the company has taken the very difficult decision to release over 100 pilots and engineers (both National and Expatriates) over the next couple of weeks.”
This comes barely 24 hours after Air Peace sacked scores of pilots across its fleet while slashing staff salaries by up to 40 percent.
According to the airline’s spokesman, Mr. Stanley Olise, the retrenchment, and shedding of workers were not unlinked with the economic devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
British Airways pilots have overwhelmingly voted to accept a deal cutting wages by 20 percent with 270 jobs lost, according to aviation union BALPA.
The deal, announced Friday, comes as the airline struggles with the economic impact of the coronavirus which has seen it propose lay-offs of 12,000 staff, more than 1,200 of those pilots.
Salaries will initially be reduced by 20 percent, then by eight percent over two years, after which there will be no more wage cuts, said BALPA.
It also prevents, said the union, an unpopular “fire and rehire” scheme where staff would have been handed new contracts on different conditions and which had led to strike threats.
“Our members have made a pragmatic decision in the circumstances but the fact that we were unable to persuade BA to avoid all compulsory redundancies is bitterly disappointing,” said BALPA general secretary Brian Strutton.
British Airways employs 4,300 pilots.
The deal was backed by 85 percent of pilots, said BALPA, and the turnout was 87 percent.
Earlier this week, BA criticised the British government for placing quarantine rules on all travellers returning from Spain, claiming it would have an “impact on an already troubled aviation industry”.
Six Pakistani pilots spoke to Media (known to Noble Reporters Media) about allegations of fraud and improper flight certification practices.
Pakistani pilots claim that fraud and improper flight certification practices at the country’s civil aviation regulator are an open secret, while air safety has routinely been compromised by airlines through faulty safety management systems, incomplete reporting and the use of regulatory waivers.
Six Pakistani pilots spoke to Media (known to Noble Reporters Media) on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals from their employers or the regulator.
Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the country’s largest airline and only major international carrier, was at the centre of most of the air safety complaints, and denied all of the allegations.
Scrutiny of Pakistan’s commercial aviation sector has increased as pilots have found themselves battling allegations by the country’s aviation minister that almost a third of all licensed Pakistani pilots had obtained their certifications fraudulently.
His comments came weeks after a PIA passenger jet crashed in the southern city of Karachi, killing 98 people.
The names of three of the six pilots spoken to were on the list of “fake” licence-holders. They deny any wrongdoing.
State-owned PIA grounded 102 pilots and launched an internal inquiry following the aviation minister’s allegations. Pilots at two other Pakistani airlines, SereneAir and Airblue, were also suspended pending clearance.
A crash, and its wake On May 22, a PIA Airbus A320 crashed into a residential neighbourhood in the southern city of Karachi, killing 97 of the 99 people on board as well as one person on the ground, according to official data.
While releasing the preliminary investigation report into the crash, Pakistani Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said the crash appeared to be due to “human error”.
He also announced that a separate, ongoing government inquiry had found that 262 of the country’s 860 licensed pilots had obtained their credentials fraudulently. A list of the pilots was drawn up and sent to airlines.
At least 28 pilots have had their licences cancelled since the announcement, while inquiries into the remaining pilots are ongoing, Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) says.
Pilots’ bodies criticised the announcement, claiming the government’s list had a number of errors such as including the names of deceased pilots, confusing pilots with similar names, and classifying pilots as belonging to airlines they had never flown with or taking exams they never attempted.
One of the major criteria for being listed – having flown a flight on the same day as an exam – has also been disputed, including by all six pilots spoken to, who said that taking an exam in the morning and flying later in the day was “routine” and within regulations.
Pakistani aviation regulations are unclear on the specific issue of taking exams on the same day as a scheduled flight, requiring only that pilots be “adequately rested” before undertaking flight duties.
Within days of the list being released, civil aviation regulators in at least 10 countries and territories, including the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Malaysia, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Bahrain, Turkey and Hong Kong, grounded pilots holding Pakistani licences and asked the PCAA to verify their credentials.
At least 166 of those 176 verification requests have been cleared, the PCAA says.
Flight safety authorities in the European Union and United Kingdom banned flights by Pakistan’s state-owned PIA into those territories, while the US Federal Aviation Authority downgraded the airline’s safety rating and revoked a limited authorisation for the airline to operate repatriation flights to and from that country.
The Pakistan Air Line Pilots Association (PALPA), the country’s main body representing pilots, has disputed the veracity of the list from the beginning, claiming there was no fraud and that the list was built mainly on clerical errors.
Now, however, several pilots have revealed to Media (known to Noble Reporters Media) the existence of a longstanding “pay to pass” scheme at the country’s aviation regulator.
‘Easier to cheat’ “I am witness to it. I don’t even have to think about it, I have witnessed it,” said “Pilot A”, whose name was on the list of suspected licences. “It’s a well-known thing in the industry that you can either do it the regular way or you can pay someone to [cheat] for you.”
Pilot A said that he had been approached by colleagues with an offer to help him cheat, with the aid of PCAA officials, in exchange for payment when he had been attempting his commercial pilot’s licence (CPL) written exams in 2009.
Pilot A said that when he and three others reported the fraud to senior PCAA officials, they were repeatedly failed on their final CPL exam until they “apologised”.
“Everyone [in our group of whistle-blowers] who apologised to [the PCAA official], the next attempt they cleared their exams.”
“Pilot B”, a senior instructor at a flight school and later a commercial pilot at PIA, said that while committing fraud on the tests was not widespread, the availability of the option was well known.
“It was easier to [cheat] than to not do it,” he said. “They give you a bank of 40,000 questions. Then you can either study for it and try to pass, or you pay to get the answer key [from someone].”
In 2011, the PCAA changed its testing processes, increasing the number of exams from three to eight, based on European Joint Aviation Requirements (JAR) standards, and introducing personalised computerised tests for pilots.
Pilots say the method of fraud then changed to paying corrupt PCAA officials to allow them to bypass taking the exams altogether.
“[PCAA employees would] put in the [data] and do the exam and mark you as whatever grade you got,” said another pilot, “Pilot C”. “So you give me [a multiple of] 100,000 rupees ($600) and I’ll make it happen on my day off. […] They were minting money.”
Other pilots put the price of passing individual exams at between Rs40,000 and Rs100,000 ($240-$600).
Authorities say the current investigation was initiated by a commercial aircraft accident in the southwestern town of Panjgur in November 2018, when an ATR-72 aircraft overshot the runway. An investigation found the lead pilot’s licence had been issued based on an exam supposedly taken on a public holiday, when the PCAA is closed.
To obtain their licences, commercial pilots are also required to undertake both real-world and simulator check-rides. They regularly repeat those tests to maintain the validity of the licences.
Pilots told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media) that it was “routine” for instructors and PCAA officials to pass pilots on yearly or biannual simulation check rides, as well as on licensing flight check-rides, based on pressure from the regulator, other parties or the two pilots’ previous relationship.
“It was so common to do this, to be told to just sign a licence [without certifying],” said Pilot B, of his time as a flight instructor. “It was unbelievable to me.”
Pilot B said he faced punitive action by the regulator if he did not comply with requests to pass pilots, citing the example of one pilot who had not completed the required flight hours.
“When I refused, my licence was put into audit and I was accused of having a forged logbook,” he said.
Pilot A said he once witnessed a PCAA official pressure a foreign flight instructor to pass a pilot on a simulator check-ride conducted in Indonesia.
“In 2018, he crashed an aircraft on a single-engine emergency 11 times [in a row] on a [simulator] check-ride,” said Pilot A. “And yet was cleared.”
“Later, [that pilot] told me about how to pass papers fraudulently in the PCAA.”
The PCAA says a full-scale investigation into the allegations is ongoing, and that five officials at the regulator, including two senior officers, have been suspended so far.
“I can assure we are working day and night,” aviation ministry spokesman Abdul Sattar Khokhar told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media). “We are not trying to punish someone innocent, or to spare anyone who is guilty.”
‘Ticking time bomb’ Pakistan has had a troubled aircraft safety record, with five major commercial or charter airliner crashes in the last decade alone, killing 445 people.
In the same period, there have been numerous other non-fatal safety incidents, including engines shutting down in mid-flight or on takeoff, landing gear failure, runway overruns and on-the-ground collisions, according to official reports and pilot testimony.
In 2019, Pakistan’s aviation industry registered 14.88 accidents per million departures, according to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), far above the global average of 3.02.
On June 30, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) identified six areas of concern with the airline, singling out the failure to effectively implement the Safety Management System – more than nine months since the EU regulator had first raised the issue as part of its regular audit of PIA’s air safety compliance – as the primary reason for suspending the operator’s authorisation.
Pilots told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media) the crashes and accidents were a result of a systematic disregard for air safety protocols in some airlines, including PIA.
Many of the concerns centre around allegations that PIA’s Safety Management System (SMS) and Flight Data Management System (FDMS), designed to identify unsafe flight manoeuvres or patterns of unsafe flying, are routinely ignored.
“There have been so many safety violations,” said “Pilot D”, a senior PIA pilot with 13 years of commercial aviation experience. “The European Union Aviation Safety Agency report did not come because of the crash or the ‘fake’ licences, it was a ticking time bomb.”
“[The airline] does not lack the safety management system, it has it, but it has no respect for safety culture,” said Pilot D.
“When the regulator and operator share a bed, then things become very difficult,” he said, alleging that PCAA, a government-run agency, routinely turned a blind eye to the actions of the state-owned PIA.
“If I want to do a violation, there is provision that … I can get a waiver from the CAA, for emergency use only.”
Pilot D, and other pilots, said the use of waivers had “become a norm in PIA”, for violations such as poorly equipped aircraft being dispatched, or for limitations on how many hours flight crews can operate.
“Aircraft were getting dispatched without the correct parts on board. Operating with less than the prescribed number of crew. Sending crews who are unqualified to run certain routes. All of this was meant to be covered by PCAA, but because there was collusion with the PIA management, there were no consequences,” said Pilot D.
NRM reviewed flight logs showing flight duty time limitation (FDTL) violations on at least eight occasions in 2020 alone, with flight duties ranging from 19 hours to more than 24 hours. The maximum FDTL under PCAA regulations for an aircraft with two full crews onboard is 18 hours, subject to waivers.
In a statement, PIA denied any regulations had been violated with respect to flight duty times. It said “a handful” of waivers had been obtained due to the exceptional circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The PCAA confirmed waivers had been given for the purpose of emergency repatriation flights but denied that they were given routinely.
‘Hot-and-high’ approaches Pilot B, who also works with the safety department of PIA, said pilots had been encouraged to conduct approaches to airports “hot and high” – meaning flying for longer at higher altitudes, approaching runways at a steep angle of descent and higher speed – to save fuel.
“If you come hot and high then you are cruising higher and saving fuel on the way down,” said Pilot B.
“[Management] started writing emails saying that pilots need to log how much fuel they use and how much they saved. Pilots with the highest fuel savings were given the best routes.”
David Greenberg, an international aviation consultant with more than 40 years of experience, said such approaches were inherently unsafe.
“It’s like going down an unstable staircase, and the first thing you do is remove the handrail and then see if you can get to the bottom of the staircase before anyone else,” he told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media)
Pilot B said there had been more than 30 runway overruns – where pilots had missed their targeted landing range on the runway – and at least three runway threshold overruns – where aircraft actually departed the runway – in the last year alone, all based on a pattern of “hot and high” approaches. PIA denied the allegations.
In one incident in the northern town of Gilgit in July 2019, a PIA-operated ATR-42 aircraft skidded off the end of the runway, completely wrecking the aircraft. There were no fatalities.
“We have a full software for safety that is never monitored,” said “Pilot E”, referring to the SMS and FDMS.
The airliner that crashed in Karachi in May had refused Air Traffic Control (ATC) guidance on its altitude on approach, registering at 9,780ft (2980 metres) when 15 nautical miles from the runway, according to flight data in the preliminary investigation report, more than 6,700ft (2042m) higher than advised by ATC.
“It became obvious that this hot-and-high thing was an issue that needs to be handled by the regulator,” said Pilot B. “We’d had three overruns which were all incidents [in the last year], the fourth one may not be so lucky. We told them that the fourth one could kill people. And the fourth one was [the crash].”
‘There was chaos’ Pilots said that at PIA and other airlines they were actively discouraged from filing air safety reports (ASRs), a primary means of reporting safety incidents that may have occurred in-flight.
“In Pakistan, they don’t know how to manage ASRs and safety reports,” said Pilot C. “Now, if there is an ASR, you can get in trouble. So guess what? You’re not going to raise an ASR.”
Greenberg, the aviation consultant, described the combination of lax reporting, loose regulatory control and inconsistent safety protocols as “a recipe for disaster”.
In a statement, PIA denied any wrongdoing regarding safety protocols.
“It is absurd to even suggest that,” said Abdullah Khan, the airline’s spokesperson. “It is true that the management is pushing reforms in the organisation, which had been plagued by a number of challenges, however, safety always takes precedence over anything else.”
The issues are not limited to PIA, however, said pilots with experience in other airlines.
Pilot A narrated an incident on board a flight operated by a different airline to the capital, Islamabad, in 2018, where the captain refused to follow Pilot A’s advice as first officer to divert the aircraft to Lahore due to extreme weather.
After remaining in a holding pattern for 45 minutes, the captain decided to land the aircraft through the extreme weather, which had seen several other flights divert to other airports, says A.
“It was turbulent, it was bumpy and there was chaos on approach to runway 12,” said Pilot A. “The captain froze at the controls and started praying to God.”
Pilot A was forced to take over control of the aircraft, landing it safely in Islamabad after another argument with the captain approximately six nautical miles out from the runway.
The Nigerian Air Force says that the death of flying officer, Tolu Arotile, was caused by what it describes as brute force and severe injuries following a road traffic accident at NAF Base Kaduna on Tuesday.
In a news conference on Sunday, the spokesperson, Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, said the military is ruling out any possibility of foul play in the death of the young flying officer.
Commodore Daramola also confirmed that the driver of the vehicle that knocked down the late officer, Mr Nehemiah Adejo and the two other occupants of the car will be handed over to the police for prosecution since it is a civil case.
Meanwhile, a military source had earlier told Channels Television that the driver who knocked down Arotile is a civilian who had no valid driving credentials.
According to the source, the driver was also her secondary school classmate.
The family of the late officer and some prominent Nigerians have called for a thorough investigation into the circumstances leading to her death.
Arotile is Nigeria’s first female helicopter combat pilot.
“Until her death, Flying Officer Arotile, who was commissioned into the NAF in September 2017 as a member of Nigerian Defence Academy Regular Course 64, was the first-ever female combat helicopter pilot in the Service,” the Air Force spokesman, said in an earlier statement.
“During her short but impactful stay in the Service, late Arotile, who hailed from Iffe in Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State, contributed significantly to the efforts to rid the North Central States of armed bandits and other criminal elements by flying several combat missions under Operation GAMA AIKI in Minna, Niger State.”
The Nigerian Air Force announced the demise of Arotile, who was Nigeria’s first female combat helicopter pilot, on Wednesday.
She died, on Tuesday, as a result of head injuries sustained from a road traffic accident at the NAF Base Kaduna.
According to sources, who preferred to remain anonymous, the civilian driver, accompanied by his friends, visited his relations at the Airforce base located in Mando area of Kaduna metropolis on that fateful day and decided to drop off the late Airforce Pilot whom he spotted on the road inside the base.
However, in the process of reversing the car, he knocked down the deceased, who died after sustaining head injuries, the sources claimed.
Both the driver and the other occupants of the car were said to have been taken into the custody of the Air police for questioning, where it was discovered that the driver of the car has no valid driver’s license.
Tributes for Arotile have poured in from all her quarters since the announcement of her death early Wednesday.
The NAF has said she will be buried in full military honours.
He however, revealed that things took a different turn later in the day when he received a call from a person.
He said, “She told me that she will later go out to make some photocopies and I told her not to be long and to return home on time because she was staying with my first daughter in Kaduna.
“Around 5:30pm, somebody called me and asked if I had called her and I said yes. The person told me to call her again which I did, but there was no response. So, I called her colleagues and they were all crying on phone. I asked what happened, they were just crying.
“I called one of her bosses who told me that she was in the mortuary. I was shocked because said she was somebody I spoke with four hours earlier and by 5:00pm she was in the mortuary.”
The bereaved father further disclosed that he had to drive to Lokoja, Kogi State, from Abuja to inform his wife about the incident.
Recalling with Noble Reporters Media, the early days of his late daughter, Mr Arotile said, “She has not just been brilliant but wonderful. She did all her education from kindergarten to nursery at the Air Force base and Nigeria Defence Academy, Kaduna.
“One day, when she was very small, she pointed to one small aircraft packed on the field and said one day she was going to fly that aircraft, and I said Amen.
“So, from that day she started working towards getting admission into the Nigerian Defence Academy Kaduna. She had a degree in Mathematics and became an Air Force Cadet.
“From there, she was sent on several courses abroad and became a pilot.
“I thank God that she was able to achieve her dreams as a baby before her death.”
“A statement by the Nigerian Air Force told some truth that she died but spewed some untruth in saying that: ‘it is with great sorrow that the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) regretfully announces the unfortunate demise of Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile who died today, 14 July 2020, as a result of head injuries sustained from a road traffic accident at NAF Base Kaduna.’
“It was only eyewitness accounts that unofficially released that it was a colleague of hers who reversed his car to knock her down on the road.
“The statement added that, ‘Until her death, ?Flying Officer Arotile, who was commissioned into the NAF in September 2017 as a member of Nigerian Defence Academy Regular Course 64, was the first-ever female combat helicopter pilot in the Service.
‘During her short but impactful stay in the Service, late Arotile, who hails from Iffe in Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State, contributed significantly to the efforts to rid the North Central States of armed bandits and other criminal elements by flying several combat missions under Operation GAMA AIKI in Minna, Niger State.’
“Unofficial accounts say she just returned from a combat operation before she was knocked down to death.
“We, therefore, do not accept that her death was an accident until the report of a coroner says how she died and how a supposed attempt to stop and greet could come with a deadly impact.
“We say this against what is known of the infiltration of the forces by sympathizers and agents of Boko Haram
“We recall the report years back of such agents revealing the routes and timing of movements of our troops to Boko Haram who ambushed them.
“The inquiry should look into all the links of the colleague who killed her and we must know the identity.
“Meanwhile, we sympathize with the grieving family of Tolulope who has been thrown into deep mourning following the killing of their ft daughter not in combat but within the barrack.
Nigerians have expressed sadness over the death of Flying Officer, Tolulope Arotile who passed away on Tuesday, eight months after she was commissioned as Nigeria’s first female combat helicopter pilot.
Arotile, who hails from Kogi State, died following head injuries sustained from an accident at the Air Force Base in Kaduna.
“It is with great sorrow that the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) regretfully announces the unfortunate demise of Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, who died today, 14 July 2020, as a result of head injuries sustained from a road traffic accident at NAF Base Kaduna,” the Nigerian Air Force said.
Following her death, Nigerians took to social media to mourn her while noting that the late Arotile was a promising young girl.
Most Nigerians described her demise as a great loss to the nation.
President Muhammadu Buhari has mourned with the family of the flying officer Tolulope Arotile, describing her as a promising officer, whose short stay on earth impacted greatly on the nation, especially in peace and security.
The President in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, saluted Arotile’s bravery in the field to protect the country from the onslaught of bandits and terrorists, assuring that her memory will be indelible, and her efforts remembered.
He commiserated with the Nigerian Air Force, airmen, airwomen, and all friends of the deceased, recalling her deft skills in maneuvering combat helicopters, which he had physically witnessed with pride.
“The President sympathises with government and people of Kogi State on the loss.
“President Buhari prays that the Almighty God will receive the soul of the departed, and comfort the family she left behind”.
Arotile died on July 14, 2020, as a result of head injuries sustained from a road traffic accident at NAF Base Kaduna.
Her death comes eight months after she was commissioned as Nigeria’s first female combat helicopter pilot.
“It is with great sorrow that the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) regretfully announces the unfortunate demise of Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, who died today, 14 July 2020, as a result of head injuries sustained from a road traffic accident at NAF Base Kaduna,” the statement read.
“Until her death, Flying Officer Arotile, who was commissioned into the NAF in September 2017 as a member of Nigerian Defence Academy Regular Course 64, was the first-ever female combat helicopter pilot in the Service.
“During her short but impactful stay in the Service, late Arotile, who hailed from Iffe in Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State, contributed significantly to the efforts to rid the North Central States of armed bandits and other criminal elements by flying several combat missions under Operation GAMA AIKI in Minna, Niger State.
“The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, on behalf officers, airmen, airwomen and civilian staff of the NAF, commiserates with the family of late Flying Officer Arotile over this irreparable loss. We pray that the Almighty God grants her soul eternal rest.”
In October 2019, Noble Reporters Media reported how Arotile was commissioned along with 12 others, including Kafayat Sanni, the country’s first female fighter pilot.