KARACHI: A day after Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan expressed hopes that the ban imposed on Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to operate flights in Europe would be lifted soon, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) informed the national flag carrier that the ban had been extended by three months and that it would not be reviewed until a safety audit of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), it emerged on Saturday.
Only on Friday, the aviation minister had told reporters in Taxila that most concerns of EASA regarding the process of issuing licences to commercial pilots had been addressed and soon the ban imposed on PIA flights in European countries would be lifted.
However, a senior PIA official confirmed to Dawn that PIA had received a disappointing message in response to a request made by the airline.
He said that the national carrier had asked the European agency to give its provisional permission to operate flights to and from European destinations since it had met several conditions.
Request for permission to operate flights in European countries declined; ban extended for three months
“We have asked EASA that they can conduct a safety audit of PIA, free from CAA, and in the meantime grant us provisional permission,” he said, adding that in response the agency said it could not issue such a permission.
The EASA letter says: “Regarding the lack of confidence in certification and oversight activities performed by the Pakistani CAA, which was the second aspect that led to the suspension of Third Country Operator Authorisation, the investigation performed by the European Commission and by the ICAO have not yet been concluded.
“Consequently, as all preconditions to lift the suspension are not met and, as an audit will be necessary, the agency decided not to revoke your Third Country Operator Authorisation but to extend the suspension period by additional three months….”
The official explained that the ban was not on PIA per se but on the state of Pakistan and it would not be lifted until the regulator brought reforms to the satisfaction of EASA.
Sources said that PIA was in constant touch with the European agency and had provided it necessary documents as evidence regarding the implementation of the agreed corrective action plan. EASA had told PIA that it found the documents satisfactory but linked the lifting of the ban with meeting certain conditions that primarily related to the CAA because of the ‘fake’ pilots’ licence issue.
EASA told PIA it was investigating the issue of ‘fake’ pilots’ licences and it would review the ban after an audit but added that its officials could not visit Pakistan because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Taking advantage of ban
The EASA ban is not only causing a huge financial loss to PIA, it is also giving an opportunity to foreign airlines to expand their operations.
Earlier this month, British airline Virgin Atlantic launched its direct flight operations for Islamabad and Lahore while British Airways had already expanded its operations from Islamabad to Lahore.
EASA had in July suspended the authorisation for PIA to operate flights in the EU member states for six months due to safety concerns after the aviation minister, while making public the preliminary report of the May 22 air crash, told parliament that 262 Pakistani pilots possessed dubious licences.
The curbs were extended later as EASA was not fully satisfied by the measures taken to improve the process of issuing the licences as well as other safety matters.
The European agency had given PIA the right to appeal against its decision in two months but its Air Marshal Arshad Malik-led management decided not to lodge the appeal because of the visit of a team of International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) to assess the operational management and control systems of the airline.
The IOSA team visited the country in September and its focus was on PIA’s flight operations and its passenger service, engineering, etc.
Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2020