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EU appears unrelenting on PIA ban

written by Hannah Dowling | December 11, 2020

PIA Airbus A310-324 shot from Dubai International (Wikimedia Commons)n

European regulators have upheld the ban on flight operations for Pakistan International Airlines following the airline’s involvement in a widespread pilot accreditation scandal.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) suspended PIA’s authorisation for operation in European Union member countries for six months back in July 2020. 

The EASA ban was quickly followed by similar action taken by regulators in the UK and US.

Since then, the airline has also faced scrutiny from the European Commission, which oversees a more long-term list of banned airlines and operators within the EU.

While the European Commission ultimately decided not to list PIA on this database, it has upheld the EASA’s decision to ban the carrier’s operations in Europe, and sent correspondence to the Pakistani government to urgently remove safety deficiencies and improve its licensing processes for commercial pilots.

The European Commission’s EU Air Safety Committee (ASC) met in November to discuss the addition of PIA to its list of banned operators.

Following the unanimous opinion of the ASC, a letter was sent to former secretary of aviation Hasan Nasir Jamy noting the ASC’s continued concern over the measures taken by the PCAA to determine the root cause of the licensing scandal, and implement corrective measures to prevent it from happening in the future.


However, the ASC also made note of the numerous correspondences received between the beginning of its scandal in June and the meeting date in November from the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA), and recognised the Pakistani regulator’s efforts to put in place some corrective measures to address the identified safety situation in Pakistan.

“In view of this, it has been decided not to make any changes to the list of air carriers subject to an operating ban with respect to air carriers certified in Pakistan,” the ASC said.

It urged the PCAA to maintain regular contact with the European Commission to keep it informed of the further actions to respond to and deal with the safety concerns.

The former aviation secretary was also informed that the European Commission would continue its monitoring and assessment of how the carrier managed the situation moving forward. 

The regulator said doing so appropriately might include a visit to Pakistan when travel conditions would permit it.

Meanwhile, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, said in a separate letter to PIA that it would be conducting an audit of the third country operator before it considered the lifting of its own suspension on PIA’s European operations.

The EASA said the ban would be lifted when its conditions were met, however the airline has yet to do so.

The EASA announced that it will be suspending Pakistan International Airlines’ authorisation to fly into EU member states, citing “safety management” concerns, back in July.

The announcement followed a Pakistani Parliament inquiry, which found that almost a third of all active pilots in the country may have obtained their licences fraudulently, by paying others to sit their exams in their place.

According to a letter sent from EASA to the state-owned Pakistani airline at that time, its decision to suspend PIA’s ‘Third Country Operator’ authorisation status came into effect on Wednesday, 1 July at midnight UTC.

The decision has seen PIA unable to perform any commercial air transport within any of the 28 EU states.

PIA had alreadey grounded 150 of its 434 pilots to investigate the authenticity of their licences, following allegations from the country’s aviation minister that a third of all registered pilots in Pakistan had achieved their pilot qualifications under false pretenses.

The nation’s federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan told the Pakistani Parliament that 284 of the country’s total 860 active and licensed pilots may have achieved their licence by paying others to sit for their examinations.

“[They] were found not to have given their exams themselves,” said Minister Khan. “They give money and have a dummy candidate sit in their place.”

Minister Khan said a government inquiry was ongoing into all 262 alleged cases of fraud in obtaining these pilot’s licences.

However, EASA said in its letter, that PIA’s decision to suspend its accused pilots did not do enough to address the agency’s concerns regarding overall air safety in Pakistan, in addition to its concerns regarding PIA’s safety management systems specifically.

“[The grounding of pilots] does not mitigate EASA’s concern, as there are strong indications that a high number of Pakistani pilot licences are invalid,” EASA stated in the letter.

“EASA therefore no longer has confidence that Pakistan, as the state of operator, can effectively ensure that operators certified in Pakistan comply at all times with the applicable requirements for crew qualification.”

This all came in the wake of an initial investigation into a PIA plane crash that killed 98 people in Pakistan in May. The initial investigation found ‘human error’ to be primarily responsible for the crash.


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