IN yet another blow to PIA, the European Union Commission has decided to continue its ban on the national carrier’s operations in EU countries. Furthermore, it has asked the country’s aviation regulators to remove safety deficiencies and improve the entire process of issuing licences to pilots. The ban was enforced by the EU’s aviation safety agency in July this year, but despite negotiations with the authorities here, it was extended due to concerns regarding measures to overcome safety lapses. The development is indeed worrying and once again underscores the tragic mess the airline finds itself in today. That the international aviation regulator has expressed reservations about PIA’s licensing procedures and safety management and occurrence reporting systems is a damning indictment of the national carrier’s airworthiness — and a justifiable cause of concern for both foreign and local passengers.
The saddening saga of PIA is layered with years of neglect, improper appointments, mismanagement and financial losses. To say that a complete overhaul is needed is an understatement, as the decay runs so deep that nothing short of a dramatic makeover can now save the airline. In order for this to happen, one thing is clear: those who contributed to the problem cannot be part of the solution. Here, elements of the establishment and civil bureaucracy can be held responsible. What PIA needs is a professional, committed, solutions-oriented team that oversees regulatory matters and takes swift action to penalise those stepping out of line. Only with a thoroughly competent regulatory machinery can PIA recover from the reputational hit that it has suffered. The aviation minister’s damaging remarks about pilots’ fake licences on the Assembly floor, without concluding investigations, earlier this year only worsened matters. The government must know that this extension of the EU ban on PIA is a reminder that the airline is still not airworthy by international standards, yet it continues to fly domestically. The airline will also benefit from engaging with the European regulators and can perhaps seek their professional advice and services to address the serious gaps on issues of grassroots training, effective staffing, competent inductions, airworthiness, safety, maintenance and the important issue of licensing. Such assistance may be costly but would be a worthwhile investment in the future of the airline, which at the moment is looking rather precarious. Some steps have been taken towards reforming the CAA but a lot remains to be done.
Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2020